By Thérèse Clarke The advent of the Burmilla, nearly twenty years ago, has been related again and again but the magic of that, by now famous, accidental mating will never disappear.
The advent of the Burmilla, nearly twenty years ago, has been related again and again but the magic of that, by now famous, accidental mating will never disappear.
Early in 1981, Miranda Bickford-Smith (nèe von Kirchberg), whose prefix Astahazy was well known, had bought, as a pet for her husband, a Chinchilla male; shortly before he was due to be neutered, Jemari Sanquist met Bambino Lilac Fabergé, a lilac Burmese female, who had escaped from purdah. It soon became evident that kittens were on the way!
Four females, all Black Shaded Silver, were born on the 11th of September. A few weeks later, Miranda asked me to have a look at them as they were starting to develop a good foreign type as well as a short dense coat. I was very impressed especially by two of them: Galatea who was to remain with Miranda and Gemma who was brought to us when the Bickford-Smiths came to stay for Christmas.
The combined quality of their type, their spectacular look and their superb temperament prompted us to try and establish a new breed; so a mating between Sanquist and another of Miranda's Burmese queens was arranged forthwith. This resulted on 27th March 1982, in a single male kitten, Jacynth, who later joined Gemma to found our Kartush line.
The offspring of cross-mating Burmese and Chinchilla parents will always produce shorthair, silver progeny carrying two recessive genes - the 'self' gene inherited from the Burmese and the 'longhair' gene inherited from the Chinchilla. The type of F1 kittens may lean towards either of the founder breeds. Galatea and Gemma were both of such outstanding 'foreign' type that we decided that the type of our 'new' breed would resemble that of the Burmese, yet be materially different since no new breed should be mistaken for an already recognised breed. We drew up the Breed Standard on these lines - it is worth noting that today's Breed Standard is uncannily similar to it.
Now a name had to be found - as CHIN(illa-burm)ESE was obviously most inappropriate, the two young men who used to look after the Astahazy cats, suggested BURM(ese-chinch)ILLA which we all though strikingly suitable!
Thus we started developing the Burmilla as a Shorthaired Agouti cat of medium foreign type, showing a striking contrast between a coloured Shading/Tipping and a Silver base. Matings between F1 parents selected for type only, could produce 'true' Birmillas, Birmillas carrying self and/or longhair, Silver Shaded/Tipped Longhairs, Smokes, Silver/non Silver Tabbies and Selfs (the last three varieties in either longhair or shorthair).
During 1983 Miranda became interested in all the different varieties occurring in the development of the breed while my husband Charles and I were entirely identifying with the Burmilla itself. So by common agreement, on 13th November, it was decided that Miranda would develop the Burmilla and its related breeds of cats within the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) while Charles and I would specialise in establishing the Burmilla within the Cat Association of Britain (CA) which had been formed earlier in the year. This would also give two chances for recognition, irrespective of which organisation might be the first to do so.
Within the GCCF Miranda pursued a breeding policy of out mating to Burmese at every other generation thus obtaining all varieties of 'Asians'. The club she founded in 1985 continues her pioneering work and is now known as 'The Asian Group Cat Society'. The GCCF recognised the Burmilla in 1995 and most varieties can be seen today at the GCCF shows.
A founder member of the CA, Barbara Gazzaniga, who had bought one of Gemma's and Jacynth's kittens, was also staying with us during that fateful weekend back in November 1983. Together we formulated a Breeding Program, finalised the Breed Standard and presented them to the CA Board which accepted both later in the month.
Our enthusiasm knew no bounds but there were only three of us, so we founded the Burmilla Cat Club on Saturday 21st January 1984 with the aim of getting together breeders willing to start independent lines as well as half lines ensuing from Kartush parentage, to promote the breed by exhibiting regularly at CA shows and to contribute to a club magazine: THE BCC MEWS.
Since then the BCC, granted affiliation to the CA in July 1986, has held Spring Exemption Shows and All Breeds Championship Shows in October each year - these became International following CA's election as the British Member of the Fédération Internationale Féline (FIFe) in May 1990. Following the winding-up of the CA in November 2004, the BCC became Associated with the newly formed Independent club Everycat UK in December 2003 and continues to hold International championship shows annually.
Since by definition a 'breed' must 'breed true' the two recessive genes (self and longhair) had to be eliminated; also five 'pure' generations had to be produced before recognition could be applied for. Inbreeding was therefore necessary: Sib matings, Father to Daughter or Family circle. Sib mating is the fastest method and theoretically 'fixes' 16% of genes at each generation. Back mating younger generations to those of known genetic make-up, such as F1, would also be required to try to eliminate from the breeding programme any parent which might not be homozygous in the two dominant genes. Hopefully, the breed would appear from the third generation onward when outmating to peers of another line would enlarge the gene pool and homogenise the characteristics inherent to each line. Breeding from outstanding specimens only was of paramount importance. Line breeding also has the advantage of pinpointing any ancestor/s which may be carrying any harmful trait - a near impossibility if more than one line is involved.
Charles and I embarked on such a policy with Roy Robinson's blessing and guidance. We eventually outbred two pure F3 females with two unrelated Burmese studs. Their progenies were brought into our Family circle, thus improving the type and increasing our gene pool, viability and vigour.
Other BCC breeders were at liberty to apply their own Breeding programme within the framework of the approved Breeding Policy. Some started entirely new lines, some half lines from Kartush cats; others outcrossed regularly to Burmese (the only outcross allowed) thus achieving a faster homozygosity for the Shorthair gene and improvement of type though greatly decreasing the incidence of Silver offspring, ie Burmillas.
In the UK today, besides the Kartush and Gazzella lines, several other lines are well established: Brandywell (Caroline Turner-Russell), Zingaro-Tamimah (Michael Garrett), Brimstone (Pauline Turner), Katchadream (Sharon Donaghie), Lakota (Lynn McGuckian). Over the years Brandywell and Kartush kittens have been exported to most countries of Western Europe and Scandinavia.
In 1984 Birgit Behammer imported into Denmark two Burmillas (bred by Mrs P Bydlinski) and began an extensive breeding programme by crossmating them to her Thamakan Burmese, starting several new lines, importing a Kartush male in 1991 and a Brandywell female a year later. We are all greatly indebted to her for having promoted Burmillas on the continent and for bringing some of them to Prague for the FIFe General Assembly where the Burmilla Breed was granted recognition as a Shorthair breed in its own right (28th May 1994). The FIFe Breed Standard have since been in force worldwide in all FIFe countries.
Five years ago and further afield, Robin Moller, from New South Wales, having read an article on Burmillas and been entranced by their spectacular looks, enrolled another Burmese breeder, Mrs L Burgess, in her efforts to establish the breed 'down under'. Following the approval by the NSW authorities of the FIFe Breeding Policy and Breed Standard, their newly formed Burmilla Breeders Association of Australia has become a very active and thriving club doing extremely well in the show ring against other breeds. This year two Kartush kittens, a male and a female, have taken up residence with Mrs L Burgess and Robin Moller respectively with the aim of starting new half-lines.