They are known for their sleek good looks, alluring eyes and sunny disposition, but one group of “Burmese” are virtually unknown in modern Myanmar — the country’s namesake pedigree cats.
Once believed to be the favoured pet of royalty and guardians of temples, the Burmese cat had vanished from its Southeast Asian ancestral homeland until enthusiasts decided to return them.
Hotelier Yin Myo Su has taken it upon herself to restore the breed to its homeland. She began by importing seven cats in 2008, including some obtained from Harrod’s department store. Now fifty cats are in residence at a house on Inle Lake, in eastern Shan State. Seventeen more of the cats have been rehomed. Yin Myo Su gives neutered Burmese cats to interested locals for free and charges foreigners 500,000 kyats ($580). She began the project to help her country preserve its cultural heritage as it emerges from military rule. As a symbolic gesture, Yin Myo Su presented one of the cats to internationally known democracy advocate and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who was unable to keep the cat due to a jealous dog. The cat is cared for in the democracy icon’s name.
Burmese cats are thought to have inhabited Southeast Asia for over a thousand years, with the breed becoming diluted in the 19th century. According to the The International Cat Association, modern Burmese cats are largely descended from a single female cat, Wong Mau, who was taken to the US in 1930.