THE KORAT BREED HISTORY

 

In the summer 1972 a litter of Korats went on exhibition at the Kensington Kitten and Neuter Show. They had been born on Easter Sunday in quarantine to cats imported from USA to Miss Betty Munford and the breed’s debut was overseen by Mrs Daphne Negus who was instrumental in introducing the Korat into Britain after working hard to see it become established in US during the previous decade.

It may just be though, that this was actually the second time around for the Korat on British soil. The origins of the Cat Fancy are rooted in the last years of the 19th century, flourishing as travellers returned from distant parts with their unusual pets. One such was a Mr Spearman who is on record as exhibiting a blue cat at the Holland House Show in 1896. He claimed it as a Siamese since Siam was where he had acquired it, but suffered disqualification at the hands of the famous artist, Mr Louis Wain, as his treasure did not have the biscuit coloured coat and facial markings that distinguish this breed then as now. So it would seem that this non-Siamese was a blue self cat from Thailand. What else could it have been but a Korat?

Some fifty years later an American lady, Mrs Jean Johnson, decided that as she was going to be resident in Thailand for some time she would have a Siamese cat as an appropriate pet. She didn’t speak the language and had some difficulty making clear what she wanted to Thai friends. Eventually she obtained one from a Bangkok breeder and proudly showed off her blue-eyed seal pointed acquisition, only to be told that what she had may be termed a Siamese cat, but was not the cat of Siamese people.

It seemed this honour went to a rare and beautiful grey-blue cat (Si-sawat) that could be found in the mountainous region of the Korat province. This little cat had a long a venerable history in its native land, being one the breeds  described in the Tamra Mao (Cat Book Poems) copied and recopied in the monasteries over several centuries.

According to the unknown author some breeds depicted were bringers of good luck, some bad. The Korat with its rain-cloud coat and green eyes was 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 was still paraded around, and carried in procession to the well where it was sprinkled with water, to ensure the rice paddies were filled by rain.

Eventually Mrs Johnson came to see and be spellbound by Thailand’s cats of good fortune, but so rare were they that she wasn’t able to bring one with her, as planned, on her return home. Fortunately though, her ambition to be a Korat owner wasn’t forgotten by her Thai friends and the first pair ever to travel west arrived in US in 1959 to found the Cedar Glen line which features strongly in any pedigree trace, with Nara and Darra at its head.

Record keeping has always featured strongly in Korat traditions since the earliest days. Those who established the breed agreed the importance of its history and origins. It was valued because the Korat was, and is, an ancient, natural breed.  A policy of no outcrossing was fixed, all Korats originating only from Thailand and having pedigrees traceable to this source. The redoubtable Mrs Negus had by this time imported nine others from there and Mrs Johnson’s articles in the cat press had drawn in others returning to US with Korats, so by the mid 1960s the Korat Cat Fanciers Association had formed and work on a breed standard underway.

In the ancient Thai cat poems the Korat is described as having a coat with ‘roots of clouds, tipped with silver’. Its eyes are large, luminous as ‘dewdrops on the leaves of the lotus’, green as ‘the first shoots of young rice’. Whilst GCCF wants facts rather than poetry in its Standard of Points book, it would still be true to say these are the ideals aimed for as showbench qualities. Large green eyes, almost oversized for the face and a coat whose silvery tipping gives it a sheen or halo effect are the qualities that make a Korat stand out as different. The adult can be breathtakingly beautiful, though the kittens often go through a ‘ugly duckling stage, and it has to be remembered that this  is a slow maturing breed.

However, it’s not looks alone that endear the breed. Many who have had a Korat say that nothing else is quite the same. 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.

Korats love to play. They like to have a store of small toys to give a variety of activities. Some will retrieve small objects and carry them around - though they don’t necessarily remember where they dropped them last! Korats are lithe and active athletes, and loving companions requiring and giving commitment. Because of this the bond between cat and owner, once formed, is strong and enduring.

 

CATS FROM OUT OF THE BLUE
The Thai Blue Point & Thai Lilac

Although the name Korat is only given to the blue cat of Thailand and no outcrossing has taken place, recessive colour genes have been carried from their country of origin. From time to time non-blue kittens were born. These are now Thai Blue Points which look remarkably like old fashioned Siamese and Thai Lilacs, a solid lilac cat  with some of the Korat silvery sheen to its coat.

So where did these genes, 'alien' to the Korat, come from? The origins of the Thai Lilac must lie somewhere back in the mists of time in Thailand. Seal Point Siamese (Wichienmaad), Korats (Si-sawats) and Copper cats (Thong Daeng) all existed as recognised Thai cats several hundred years ago, at the time when the cat book poems were written. Although they have been developed as distinct and separate breeds in the west since the beginning of this century, each breed carries a genetic legacy from their country of origin.

It is on record that the Korat is thought to have added the 'blue' to the Blue Point Siamese, possibly the Burmese acquired their blue genes from this source too.  It's not really very surprising that a few Korats gained added extras in return.

Blue Point kittens  have actually been turning up in Korat litters throughout the western world since the earliest days of Korat breeding. In US three Thai Siamese were used to add to the gene pool to establish the breed. This followed the practice of the Bangkok catteries where there was some interbreeding between the Thai cats and the kittens were named phenotypically.

However,  one breeder,  was amazed when having a selected a stud and three breeding queens to avoid chocolate she found that all carried the gene for the siamese coat pattern, giving her many litters with attractively pointed babies.The Chandrakan Blue Points were the first to be registered, earlier breeders had  given them as pets without records, as is the practice today in other countries where they are viewed as a fault, in the same way as a kinked tail or white patch on a Korat. In the days when the Korat was being established breeders were sworn to secrecy if ‘snow cats’ appeared, and told to breed away from them (impossible given the extremely small gene pool), but here Korat breeders have had to face the truth of that well worn Cat-Fancy adage - ‘recessives go on for ever’.

In 1989 Jenanca Lilac Lillee was born from two Korat parents. The following year a repeat of this mating was made, with more lilacs resulting, and, even more surprisingly, another pair, a hundred miles away, gave birth to a young male.  Blue Points were one thing, it was believed at first outcrossing must have been used to achieve  Lilacs and initially speculation and rumour spread fast.

However, although Lillee's birth caused something of an uproar it's probable that Thai lilacs have been born in other parts of the world, though  references  in articles and letters are vague and cannot now be substantiated. However, two  interesting facts  emerged from recently discovered correspondence. The lilacs were known in their native country, the writer had seen one in a book shop in Bangkok. The Thai nomenclature wasn’t given, but by westerners they were called lavender,  or champagne copper, given their pinky beige appearance, making them more obviously a dilute of the chocolate than the blue. Also, one well known Thai breeder, Mr Chompoo Arthachinda, whose lines are common to many of the early Korat imports to USA, was actually endeavouring to breed a lilac cat, using Korat and Siamese stock.

Even more convincing than this ancient correspondence though was the fact  that three Thai imports are not closely related to each other, or to Korats already in this country, also produced lilac offspring.

The most frequently asked question about the Thai colours is: If the parentage of these cats is Korat, why not simply call them Lilac and Blue Point Korats, instead of Thai Lilac and Blue Point?Agreed, this is perfectly logical if nothing is known  of Korat tradition. However, the word Korat in Thai (Si-sawat) means blue cat, and indeed, the Korat is defined as the blue cat of Thailand. Therefore any other coloured cat, regardless of parentage, cannot qualify for this definition. Therefore a name was coined by Mrs Lesley Pring that described both the colour and origin, but also respected tradition, according to the breeders' wishes. In 2002 the Thais were granted preliminary recognition by GCCF and have been appearing in assessment classes on the show bench. True they have not been numerous, but what at least if the quantity is on the sparse side the quality is there in plenty. To date every outing, except for one, has produced a merit certificate.

Jen Lacey
Jenanca Cattery - UK