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    Place of origin

    Thailand; France


    Legend claims that the golden, blue-eyed goddess Tsun Kyan-Kse blessed these equally golden, blue-eyed cats to carry the souls of Buddhist priests to Paradise, making the Birmans sacred temple companions. According to the legend, a white cat gained the colorpoint markings when protecting the body of a murdered priest. Only the cat's feet remained white. This charming legend may allude to the fact that colorpoint kittens are born white and develop their point color in the first few weeks of life. On a purely pragmatic note, the temple residents undoubtedly valued their cats as small warriors who protected sacred writings against the ravages of gnawing rodent teeth.

    Although the exact origins of the Birman, also called the Sacred Cat of Burma, cannot be known, Biblelate-nineteenth and early twentieth-century European travelers in Siam and Burma wrote about seeing longhaired cats with the coloration of the Siamese. So how and when did Birmans make their way from the Far East to Europe? According to some sources, the breed arrived as a thank-you gift. In 1916, the story goes, two Englishmen helped a group of priests save a temple in Tibet, and in 1919, when the Englishmen established residence in France, the priests expressed their gratitude by presenting the men with a pair of the beloved temple cats. Unfortunately, only the pregnant female survived the journey. With no Birman male available for further mating, the cat and her female offspring were then crossed to Siamese, Himalayan (colorpoint Persian), and white longhaired cats. Subsequently, it is said, more Birman cats were smuggled out of the temples of Burma and brought to France. The cats were said to be very difficult to rear, with only about one in ten surviving.

    Uncertainty about the breed extends to its naming as well. In the early days, the cats were variously known as Birmans, Sacred Cats of Burma, Tibetan Temple Cats, and Khmers. In 1927, a Paris Cat Show judge described the Birmans as resembling poorly bred Persians with coloring exactly like that of Siamese, but sometimes having feet with white toes. Photos of the Khmer in the French magazine La Vie a Campagne in the late 1920s show a Birman-type cat lacking the now-characteristic white bootees. In Sa Majeste, Le Chat (1932) there was a picture of a Birman-type cat described as "half-Persian, half-Siamese."

    As with many breeds, the Second World War took its toll on the Birmans. Records indicate that all modern Birmans descend from the only two breeding cats who remained in France after the war. These cats were outcrossed with Siamese and black, or black-and-white, longhairs to recreate the breed. Himalayans (colorpoint longhairs) were used to expand the gene pool, introducing new colors into the breed. (The Khmer name was dropped in 1955, when Himalayans appeared on the scene.) As a result of the Birman's early near loss and recreation, although some say the Birman traces its ancestry to temples in Burma, others claim the breed was entirely manufactured in France.

    The first Birmans arrived in the United States from France in 1959 and in Britain a year later. In 1960, a pair of "Tibetan Temple kittens" was given to a North American cat lover; although these came from Cambodia, they traced their ancestry to French lines and were identical to the Birman cats being bred in Europe and the United States.

    When Birmans were first exhibited in the United States, at a cat show at Madison Square Garden in 1967, the same year the CFA recognized the breed, the airline arranged to have photographers cover the arrival of these rare cats, which had been insured for $10,000 apiece for their trip from Florida.

    Physical description

    The Birman is a substantial, medium-sized cat, with a body that is neither cobby nor elongated. The profile exhibits a distinctive Roman nose, displaying a downward curve from a point slightly below the level of the eyes. The ears are medium in size and placed at the corners of the modified wedge-shape head. The blue eyes are nearly round. The long coat is silky, and the fur around the neck forms a ruff that frames the face.

    Colors and varieties

    Initially, Birmans were recognized only in the colors sealpoint and blue point, but crossing with Himalayans during the expansion of the breed introduced other pointed colors, including chocolate, cream, lilac, red, tabby (lynx), and tortoiseshell. Eyes are always blue. The four matching white gloves are an essential component of the show standard. The gloves extend in an upside-down V-shape to the hocks of the back legs in a pattern known as laces. No other white is permitted on the face or body. A warm beige color on the back, called the golden mist, is desirable and develops as the cat matures.


    These cats seem almost cognizant of their historic link to the exotic temples of the Far East, having about them an air of self-assuredness even more pronounced than that possessed by most cats. They are gentle, affectionate cats, tolerant of children and other pets in the household. They are wonderful lap cats who often enjoy being petted and groomed.

    Activity level


    Vocal level

    Low, although Birmans can become quite conversational with owners who talk to them. They have a unique "huff" sound that they sometimes use to express discontent or excitement.

    Special needs

    Although the coat is relatively nonmatting, regular bathing and combing is required to keep the fur in top condition.


    The name Templecat (also Tsuncat) has been adopted to describe a shorthaired variety of the Birman; it was developed in New Zealand in 1995 by outcrossing Birmans to a cinnamon spotted tabby Oriental and was originally called the Birman Shorthair. The term Tibetan has been used to describe nonpointed color varieties of the Birman cat, created through outcrossing this breed to nonpointed longhaired cats. Booteeless Birman variants are known as the Khmer. The Birman has been used in developing the Ragdoll breed.


    Tortoiseshell Birman

    From The Cat Bible, Copyright by Sandy Robins, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with I-5 Press

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