History of the Burmese cat
All Burmese around the world, outside of Southeast Asia, are descended from a single female cat that was brought from Burma to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1930. Her name was Wong Mau, and her owner, Dr. Joseph Thompson, believed she was a new breed of cat. He worked with a geneticist, Billie Gerst, and this was in fact the first time a cat breed was developed in conjunction with a geneticist. Looking back at the records of their breedings, it is likely that Wong Mau was not actually a “pure” Burmese, but a hybrid – what we now call a Tonkinese, a cross between Siamese and Burmese. But indeed, for the Western world the Burmese descendants of Wong Mau that Gerst and Thompson produced were a new breed. And from this single cat a love affair began with these little brown cats that has spread across the globe.
Although Wong Mau is believed to have come from Rangoon, Burma (now Yangon, Myanmar), the Burmese breed likely originated in Thailand. Ancient Thai poems and paintings of what have also been called “copper cats” or Thong Daeng show the breed has lived around Thai temples since at least the 1300s, and probably longer than that. Today these brown cats are still found in Thailand, and known there as “Suphalaks.” Other breeds that come from this area include Siamese (Wichien-Maat, which can be translated as “gold and diamonds” or “moon diamond”), Korats (Korat is a region in Thailand, and these cats are also known as Si-Sawat, meaning “color of the sawat seed,”), and a white odd-eyed cat breed known as Khao Manee (“white diamond”). These four breeds of cats are considered national cats by Thailand, which has issued postage stamps honoring these breeds.
(Please note that this article is in development – come back to this page again soon to learn more about the history of the Burmese breed.)
Nancy L. Reeves, UBCF Newsletter Editor