Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Cat Breed Facts: Birman

The Birman is a fabled breed that is shrouded in mystery and legend. This cat, often referred to as the Sacred Cat of Burma, was honored in Burma because the people there believed that the souls of their departed priests returned in the form of these stunning cats. The greatest legend surrounding this breed comes out of the temple of Lao-Tsun, located in western Burma.

A priest named Mun-Ha lived here, and each night, as he prayed, his sacred cat Sinh was at his side. One dark night, the temple was raided and Mun-Ha was killed. Sinh stood with his paws on his dead master, facing the sacred statue of Tsun-Kyan-Kse, the goddess of the transmutation of souls. Sinh began to transform. His coat, once white, glowed gold. His eyes turned blue, and his legs took on the color of brown velvet. His feet, however, remained a sparkling white, a symbol of the purity of Mun-Ha’s soul.

By morning, all other cats in the temple had completed this same transformation. For seven days, Sinh remained with his master. Finally, on the seventh day, Sinh died, carrying with him the soul of Mun-Ha.

While such a tale is certainly worthy of the Birman, it does nothing to illuminate the true origins of the breed. It is unlikely that anyone will ever discover the true beginnings of this illustrious cat.

The Development of the Birman

The introduction of the Sacred Cat of Burma to Western Europe is also surrounded in doubt. It is likely, however, that a pregnant female was shipped from Burma to France in 1919. Though no one seems to know what became of that cat, or why she was sent to France, it seems reasonable to assume that her kittens, including a beautiful female named Poupee, were the foundation used to establish the breed in France.

By 1925, the Sacred Cat of Burma was established well enough in France to take part in various competitions. The arrival of World War II, however, was hard on the breed. There was a point just after the war when there was only a single pair of these cats left. Concerned breeders used outcrossing to reestablish the breed as best they could.

In 1955, the Sacred Cat of Burma was firmly reestablished in France. Four years later, a breeding pair was imported into the United States. By the mid-1960s, the breed was accepted for competition in North America and England. Around this same time, the name was changed to Burman, and eventually to Birman.

Some Breed Standards for the Birman

The standards for the Birman, as with many other breeds, are quite strict. It is quite easy to have a cat that is penalized or even disqualified, so those picking a show or breeding kitten should do so with care.

General: The Birman is a colorpointed cat with long, silky hair and four pure white feet. The head is distinctive, and the eyes are a bright blue.

Head: The head of the Birman should be strong, broad, and rounded. There should be a slight flat spot just in front of the ears. The Birman has full cheeks and heavy jaws.

Ears: Medium in length, the ears are almost as wide at the base as they are tall.

Eyes: The eyes of the Birman should be round and convey a sweet expression. The eyes should be blue in color, and the deeper blue, the better.

Body: The body should be long and stocky. Females tend to be smaller than males. Legs are medium in length and heavy, paws must be large, round, and firm.

Tail: The tail of a Birman is beautiful and pleasing in proportion to the body. It should be medium in length.

Coat: The Birman has a medium long to long coat, and is silken in texture. There should be a heavy ruff around the neck, and slight curl on the stomach. The color of the body should be fairly even, with subtle shading allowed. The points should be clearly defined, and the gloves should be clean and obvious.

Penalties: Uneven gloves, delicate bone structure, or white shading on chest or stomach are all causes for penalties.

Disqualifications: Any cat lacking full gloves will be disqualified. Other grounds for disqualification include: kinked or abnormal tail, crossed eyes, incorrect number of toes, white on the back legs beyond the hock.

The Birman is a sweet and gentle breed. Its lovely disposition and beautiful coat make it a delightful addition to any household.

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