Dr. Douglas Schar and Dr. Anatoly Vinokur
My Burmilla Project
To even begin to talk about this project, I have to take a backward step and tell you more about my adventure with breeding Burmese cats. Bear with me, I will double back to introducing my Burmilla project.
As most of you know, some years ago I decided to get involved creating genetically diverse Burmese cats. I loved Burmese cats, came to understand inbreeding was threatening the breeds survival, and hatched a plan to do something about it. I would import cats from Thailand and use them to create genetically diverse Burmese cats. And that is exactly what I did. I imported Thai cats and bred them to my American Burmese cats. The concept worked, healthy kittens, healthy cats, all was right with the world.
But, one of the things that I quickly discovered was.... the imported Thai cats were not exactly like my American Burmese cats. They were similar in personality, but, the body was sleeker, the faces more angular, the hair much much shorter, and the eye color was all over the place.
Visiting with Burmese cats in Thailand made it clear to me, even with a lot of selective breeding, my American Burmese had traits that were not to be found in Thailand. You can bring traits out in a natural breed, but, you can't put them in. Being a medical researcher, I was intrigued. I suspected my American Burmese had more in their genetic mix than the recorded Wong Mau, Tai Mau, and assundry Siamese cats used to develop the breed. So what really went into making the American Burmese? That became my question.
Through genetic testing and interviewing a lot of old breeders, I got my question answered. It seems my "American Burmese" were primarily of Thai descent, but they also had a touch of Persian and British shorthair in their ancestory. When did Persians and British shorthairs get bred into the American Burmese breed?Tthat would be anybodies guess. Lots of old breeders told me it went on in the sixties, and I was told of a few particular catteries that were known to have done so, but, the specifics are lost with the now dead breeders. But, thick coat of the American Burmese cat did not come from Thailand, nor did the big Persian eyes, nor the chunky body type. These traits came from other breeds.
More over, I do a lot of genetic testing, and my genetic testing bore out my theory that the cats had some genetics that did not come from Thailand.
Oh and by the way, my "American Burmese" were all CFA registered Burmese from well established catteries with excellent pedigrees. They were standard issue "traditional" Burmese which you could find at any cat show.
So this was just learning I came onto on the adventure called "improving the genetics of American Burmese cats". While breeding my American Burmese to Thai Burmese did correct the health defects found in the inbred American Burmese, the resultant cat did not look exactly like my American cats.... other than in personality. That part stayed the same. But, the look and the body changed.
What starts out as a simple plan, like "I am going to breed Burmese cats", often turns into an adventure. At this point in my story, my Burmese adventure is about to go down a new and unexpected road.
At some point, I became aware of the Burmilla breed. This breed came into existence in the 1970's when a Chinchilla Persian and a European Burmese had some unsanctioned sexy time and produced a litter of stunning shorthaired kittens. The kittens were somewhere between Burmese and Chinchilla Persian in appearance. So appealing were these accidental kittens, that a few breeders in England decided to use these lovely kittens to "create" a new hybrid breed and call them Burmillas. (Burmese x Chinchilla Persian).
Honestly, when I first came across the breed, I was mostly impressed by their beauty. Some mixes work, some don't. This mix worked really well and produced a cat that can only be described as stunning. Somehow it draws from both parent breeds and comes together into a beguiling combination.
As I studied and thought about the Burmilla, several things came to mind. My primary thought was that as a breed, their mix was very similar to mix that went into my beloved American Burmese.
Firstly, the breed was created with a European Burmese cat. How is that significant? The European Burmese are slightly different to American Burmese in that they have some indigenous British cat in them. Some time ago there was another "accidental" mating between a sable Burmese girl and a British Shorthair. It seems a sable Burmese girl went out on the town, and had herself a good time with a red coated British tom, and came home a girl in trouble. Once again, the kittens were cute, and another breed, the European Burmese breed came into existence. This breed is quite similar to the American Burmese, but, that red father added some new color genetics to the mix. So, European Burmese include Tortie's and reds, which you don't find in the American Burmese color line up.
So, the founding mother cat cat of the Burmilla breed was... mostly Thai with a touch of British shorthair. The founding father was a Chinchilla Persian. So genetically the Burmilla is Burmese, plus British Shorthair, plus Persian. Does that sound familiar? Oh... that is exactly like the genetic make of my American Burmese! These facts, combined with the breeds beauty, intrigued me.
I decided to get a Burmilla and do some experimenting. Through good luck, I met the top American breeder of Burmilla's, indeed one of the American pioneers in Burmilla breeding, Keith Kimberlin. His cattery, Kitzn Burmilla's, has to be the leading Burmilla breeding program in America. Most assuredly, Keith knows more about Burmillas than any human I have ever met and has some of the most beautiful cats I have ever seen. More over, he has been generous with his time and vast knowledge. With his assistance, I was able to launch my Burmilla x Thai-American Burmese program.
I decided to breed my Thai Burmese - American Burmese hybrids to a few Burmilla's.
Now, this became an interesting proposition BECAUSE the Chinchilla Persian that was and is used to create Burmillas, carries at least two coat color genes not found in the Burmese. I will present them in a grossly simplified manner, but, this will at least give you window into the Burmilla world. The first is the silver gene. This is the gene that gives the burmilla its white appearance. The gene results in the loss of pigment of a certain portion of the lower hair shaft. The normal pigment is replaced with white. The second gene is the Agouti gene. This is the gene that gives cats some degree of stripy patterning, or tabby patten, as it is more commonly known. There is more to it than that, but, that is just to say the Burmilla adds come new coat color genes to the story line.
So, when you breed a Thai Burmese to a Burmilla, you get all the Burmese coat color genes PLUS the additional coat color genes contributed by the Chinchilla Persian side of the Burmilla family. As you know, my Thai-American Burmese hybrids already come in a host of colors not usually seen, owing to their complicated Thai ancestry. When you add the Burmilla coat color genes to the mix, things get really color crazy.
But, my primary interest has always been personality and health. My fascination with the dog like cat personality remains constant and will never change. Working with the Burmilla's has added to the color range of cats that are born here, but, the personality remains the same. They may come in some very different and astonishing coat and eye colors, but, they retain that super pushy personality.
More over, they add genetic diversity. The kittens that result from this project carry American Burmese, Thai Burmese, and Burmilla genetics. They have wildly diverse genetics. Just to remind folks, genetic diverse cats are unlikely to develop genetic diseases. When you breed brother to sister, any problems in the family, are really going to come out in the kids. If you breed a cat from Thailand with a cat from England.... well... the liklihood of genetic disease goes way down.
Before we move onto looking at the cats, I will add one more thing. Keith Kimberlin worked hard to insure that Burmilla's in America could be bred to a European Burmese or a Persian at any time, and still be registered as a Burmilla. This means that the Burmilla breed gene pool will forever remain open to new genetics. It will never end up an inbred cat. Almost all cat breeds in America do not allow going outside the breed for new genetics. This very smart insertion into the Burmilla standard will result in the Burmilla breed staying healthy as long as this open breeding policy remains in place. Very smart and it makes the breed very sustainable.
So, here are some of the cats that have resulted from mating Burmilla's to Thai-American hybrids. As you will see, they range in coat color but are quite beautiful. Lots of baby pictures, stay tuned to see how the adults!