THE KORAT - THE BREED WITH A PAST,
PRESENCE AND FUTURE PERFECT

(Written by Jen Lacey for the UK Magazine "Cat World" - n. 248, November '98)

 

It's an easy task to define the Korat. It is the blue cat of Thailand. Indeed, it's very name in its native country means exactly that: 'si-sawat' greyish-blue cat. Many countries have their own blue cats, so keeping records of origin has always been important for the Korat breeders and clubs. All Korats in the west today can have their ancestry traced back to imports from Thailand. Not for nothing has it become known as the 'blue cat with the Thai Passport'.

An Ancient Natural Breed

The earliest existing records of the cats of Thailand can be seen in the Bangkok National Library, and are known as the Cat-Book Poems. Each of the breed colours is pictured and described poetically. The Korat entry relates that, 'The base of each hair, Is the colour of a cloud' and Korat eyes are 'Like dew when dropped on the leaf of a lotus'. The villagers say the eye colour is green as the first shoots of young rice.

According to the unknown author some of these cats are bringers of good luck, some bad. The Korat with its rain-cloud coat and green eyes is one of the luckiest, a symbol of wealth, fertility and good harvests. It used to be tradition for a newly married couple to be presented with a Korat on their wedding day, and in remote villages in the north east of the country a Korat is still paraded around , and carried in procession to the well where it is sprinkled with water, to ensure the rice paddies are filled by rain.

The Korat drawing and verse as it appears in the Thai Cat-Book Poems, written about 500 years ago. There has been remarkably little change, and the words of the poem are reflected in the requirements of the Standard of Points.

Its origins could be in the remote province of Korat, a place of huge granite outcrops, where its coat would blend in with its surroundings. It's said that King Rama V named the breed for this geographical location earlier this century. However, they are still rare and remain the most highly prized cat of the Thai people, who do not think of the Siamese as their national cat, as we might naturally think, but the Korat.

Such a valued possession was not given lightly. It wasn't until the 1960s that Korat breeding began in the west when a pair was sent from a friend in Bangkok to Mrs Jean Johnson of Cedar Glen cattery, USA. This brother and sister, Nara and Darra, will always be remembered in any Korat history as the first outside Thailand.

Grand Chamion Jenanca Jawying
Bredy by Jen Lacey
owned by Judith Cooper
Picture by A. Robinson.

Mystery Appearance

There is though an intriguing reference over fifty years earlier to a blue cat from Siam in Britain in 1896. It was exhibited as a Siamese cat, but had the ignominy of being disqualified by one of the most famous early cat fancier judges, artist Louis Wain. The reason given was that its colouring was not the accepted biscuity fawn. The only blue cat of Siam is, of course, our Korat.

Arrival In Britain

It was to be more than seventy years before the Korat made a second appearance here, when two cats were sent to Miss Betty Munford from USA. The first British Korats were born on Easter Sunday 1972. Breed recognition was quickly gained, but there was a long wait before Championship status was attained in 1984.

Thai Larn, Tai Ying and Kaffy
Bred byDebbie Fisher (Kordelo)

The Korat did not enjoy instant popularity on the show bench, or become a 'fashionable' breed. Not such a bad thing, those who breed them value the Korat for the qualities it possesses, there is no desire to manufacture new ones, and the number of devoted Korat pet owners has risen steadily over the years. Lots of people ring me to make a kitten enquiry who have already been Korat owners. They tell me of the years they've spent with their pet and then say, 'We must have another Korat, nothing else could be the same'. That is the most perfect testimony.

Wonderful Looks

An adult Korat can be breath-takingly beautiful. The SOP calls for large, luminous, green eyes and these often seem over-sized for the heart-shaped face. If the blue coat has an abundance of silver tipping then there is a halo effect as the light gleams on the silver sheen. The males show muscular power and, though the females are often smaller and dainty in appearance, both sexes surprise those who lift them as they are far more solid in substance than appearance suggests.

Choosing a kitten for show bench looks though is just about impossible with this breed. Korats are slow maturing, and kittens and adolescents are often ugly ducklings, with dark, rather fluffy coats and amber coloured eyes; the mature 'swan' taking three/four years to blossom. It is important to discuss with the breeder your exact requirements, but beyond saying there are no obvious faults such as white marks, or a tail defect, show potential can never be guaranteed.

Grand Champion Aerostar Spectre
Bred by John and Peggy Mackie
owned by Isobel Hotton and Steve Callen

 

Cat Who Wants To Be Part of the Family

Do not choose this breed for its looks alone. The Korat is not for you if you are desirous of the merely decorative. They wish to be involved in the lives of their people and are truly companions. There has to be a reciprocal commitment on the part of the new owner. All of us who have owned them know how our lives were changed when Korats arrived. Their natural intelligence, liveliness and playfulness is their charm and the new owner must know of this, and be ready to give time and love, which will then be repaid a hundredfold.

Colour surprises

Once established as a pedigree breed with the western registration authorities there followed a period when the distinction between phenotype (what a cat looks like) and genotype (its genetic make-up) became blurred for the Korat. With blue being the only colour acceptable to the CFA Standard of Points, and the breed's antiquity being an important part of its definition, it is sometimes supposed that all Korats have only blue kittens. This is most often the case, but not always. Nature can have a few surprises for the unsuspecting breeder unaware that recessive colour genes can be hidden for many generations.

Point for discussion between breeder and new owner

If you want a pet
If you want to show
If you want to breed

1) General health & diet
2) Vaccination record
3) Registration and pedigree

1) Show eligibility
2) Conformation to the Standard of Points

1) Gm clearance
2) The Registration Policy
3) Possibility of the occurrence of variant colours

The Thai Bluepoint & Thai Lilac

Three Thai Bluepoint Siamese cats had been used to give a wider base to the gene pool on its introduction to the USA and there are several records of Siamese/Korat matings in the catteries of Thailand. It's therefore not surprising that since the earliest days bluepoint kittens have been born, particularly when there were matings of closely related cats.

Jasper and Jasmin
Owned and bred by Peggy Phillips (Chymist)

I don't think there's any country that hasn't some record of these. When it happened common practice was to find a less closely related cat for the next mating, but, of course, this meant that there was the possibility of these genes being spread ever wider, with no way of predicting which lines would carry them. However, it did come as something as a shock to Mary Saunders, of the Chandrakan cattery, to find that her stud and three foundation queens were all Bluepoint carriers. They certainly shared some common ancestors, but were each from different lines.

Knowing of this Siamese legacy did nothing to prepare me for the arrival of the first lilac kitten born to Korat parents. Jenanca Lilac Lillee was born in 1989, and I must admit my first thought was that I should keep her a secret, but this was quickly superseded by an overwhelming curiosity to know how this could possibly have come about.

Her father was Ch Aerostar Yin Dee, Britain's first champion male Korat. A mating to his granddaughter, Hibreeze Hurricane, seemed to indicate a recessive chocolate gene to produce the dilute colour. At the time of Lillee's birth he had already been at stud for eight years, so I felt it was essential to do some research. The birth of a lilac male kitten in London a short time afterwards to another of his granddaughters from an accidental mother/son mating only went to prove that the gene was already out and about in our Korat population.

A series of test matings over the next four years, produced the ratio of lilac to blue kittens indicating a recessive gene was carried by each parent. There was documentation discovered too of the occasional unusual coloured kitten in USA, Europe, Thailand and Indonesia. The last reference was the most positive, and significant, because Yin Dee's father was born there. Eventually we knew for sure that he (Fai Faa) had had a lilac sibling, named Mr Moonlight by his breeder, Mrs Eugenie Herr, and CFA registered.

Koorahk Mr. Moonlight (left) bred by Helen Hawkins
Jenanca Lilac Larkspur (right) bred by Jen Lacey

When it's remembered that both the Burmese and Siamese have Thai origins there may be some puzzlement over why this was necessary. The chocolate gene is of eastern origin, you just don't find brown cats running around in the British back alley or farmyard. But back in 1993 when it was agreed at the AGMs of the two clubs representing our breed, the Korat Cat Association, and the Short-Haired Cat Society, to acknowledge the existence of this variant colour there was such a furore around the world over it, that hasn't quite subsided to this day.

Like the bluepoint gene, the chocolate is part of our breed's natural inheritance from its country of origin. The final proof of this came in 1996 when first generation descendants from three newly imported Thai cats gave birth to lilacs. These were no relation to any of the previous Korats, and belonged to Mrs Helen Hawkins, a breeder with a previous all blue record. At last the claim that breeders here had secretly outcrossed to produce a new colour could be laid to rest.

Variant Recognition

At present only the Korat Breed Advisory Committee of the UK acknowledges these variant colours and makes allowance for them within its GCCF registration policy. Overstamping on registration certificates enables new owners to avoid definite or potential chocolate carriers if they so wish, and the same for definite bluepoint carriers (any Korat could possibly carry ).

Grand Champion Ellandbee Mistyblue June
owned and bred by Len and Brenda Southern
Picture by A. Robinson

Breeders are happy as it gives them the knowledge to make informed choices for future breeding programmes. Some may select to breed the new colours deliberately, but whether these then go on to achieve full recognition, with show bench participation, will depend on collective democratic decision. However, because Korat history is based on phenotype description, the variant colours have been given the provisional names of Thai Bluepoint and Thai Lilac. 'Korat ' is solely applied to the blue cat Thailand.

Once this Registration Policy had been completed it seemed as though there was going to be a quiet time ahead in Korat affairs. 'Could anything else possibly turn up out of the blue?' I asked jokingly at 1997 KCA meeting. Such remarks are usually fated.


Bright Future

That summer I became hooked up to the internet. This was just as a brand new website devoted to the Korat was going on-line. In Italy, Korat enthusiast, Donatella Mastrangelo was using her computer skills to put together one of the best cat related sites on the web. There are sections on Korat history, health, special articles and stories. Individual countries have their own sections with breeders' lists, and the latest feature is that it's now linked by the Korat Ring to breeder and national home pages.

One development that followed quickly from this is the Korat List. This enables Korat breeders around the world to chat to each other. There's a Korat in Denmark who loves stealing dirty socks, another in USA who managed to spray its owner's vitamin capsules onto the wall so it looked as if the kitchen had been invaded by a beetle horde, one here can't ignore the answer phone and will even leave his own memo. All around the world it seems there are Korats getting into mischief.

Nimnuan Kamala
Bred by Ianthe Cormack
owned by Suzy Cooper

This chat is just amusing and entertaining, but if my personal experience is anything to go by those of us who are committed, serious breeders have undergone a massive learning process. After 20 years of Korats I never dreamt my knowledge was so limited by my national boundaries. I thought I knew lots, but it's been so good to be proved wrong.

Most importantly of all, this rapid information exchange has become an alert to a serious potential health threat, and its solution. Two forms of a genetic disease, gangliosidosis (Gm1 and Gm2) have been diagnosed in Korats, a serious matter for a small breed with a limited gene pool.

We have never experienced it in UK and, because of a DNA test developed to screen for carriers of both Gm types, it's most probable that we never will. This will be entirely due to the tremendous level of international co-operation taking place at the moment, organising a screening programme for all breeding cats. Together we will secure a future for the breed we all love so much.

Jen Lacey
Jenanca Cattery - UK