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BIRMAN HISTORY & DEVELOPMENT

Accounts of the arrival of the first Birmans in Western Europe are scarcely less fantastic than the temple legend. In two accounts, a male named Maldapour and a female named Sita were shipped from Burma to France in 1919. Maldapour did not survive the journey according to either report. Sita, who was pregnant, did. In the first narrative, the cats had been sent by a grateful temple priest to Major Gordon Russell, a British officer who had helped several priests and their cats to escape from the temple of Lao-Tsun into Tibet during an uprising in Burma. In the second account, 'a Mr Vanderbilt' obtained the sacred cats 'for a price of gold' from a greedy servant who had stolen them from the temple. In both accounts, Sita's fate is unknown; but it is reasonable to assume that her kittens -including a perfectly marked daughter named Poupee -- were the foundation stock used to create the Birman breed in France.

There is a third account of the Birman's arrival in France, which is chronicled in the 1969 CFA Yearbook. Verner E. Clum, the author of that article, claimed to have 'a magazine dated 1927 (Le Monde Felin), in which there is a picture of a Mme. Marcelle Adam, first importer of the Birman breed in France in 1925. Mme Adam's cattery name, incidentally, was Maldapour, and she was president of the Federation Feline Francaise. This seemed to have settled the issue, but in her next paragraph Clum recounted the Major Russell story without bothering to say which of the two individuals -- Adam or Russell -- she believed was truly the first Birman importer.

By 1925 the Sacred Cat of Burma was established well enough to be recognized for championship competition in France. Though its numbers were small, the Sacred Cat prospered until World War II. After the war there was a time when all that stood between the breed & extinction was one pair of cats. Through selective out crossing the breed was reconstructed. The process was speeded up, no doubt, by the introduction color point longhairs.

The Sacred Cat of Burma was reestablished in France by 1955. Four years later the first pair of Sacred Cats arrived in the US. By the mid 60's the breed was accepted for championship competition in North America. At about the same time it's name was changed -- first to Burman, & then to Birman. The country of Burma is now (1995) named Myanmar.

History & Development. It seems feasible to me that Major Russell may have somehow been involved in bringing the first pair of Birmans to France in 1919. And that they subsequently ended up with Mme Marcelle Adam, since her cattery name was Maldapour. She could not have imported the first pair in 1925, if indeed Birmans were accepted for championship status in France in 1925. So perhaps we are safe in saying that the first Birmans arrived in France in 1919, and from that humble beginning spread out to wherever they are today. We also know that the Birman standard is so unique that a knowledgeable judge can know it is a Birman he/she is handling with his eyes closed. But besides the distinguishing features of 'feel', the Birman also has a very exacting standard of 'sight' -- that is, the markings. The Birman is a very difficult breed to breed 'to standard'. But regardless of what the judge 'sees and feels', that Birman characteristic that is genetically 'set' 99.9% of the time is the sweet, loving Birman personality.

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Last modified: December 05, 2008

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