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Inthar Heritage House Brings Burmese Cats Back to Burma

The Burmese Cat Conservation Project's main cat room connects to a bridge leading to a private island with several small playhouses.

Dr. Arnold Plotnick  |  Jun 22nd 2016


Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the May/June 2016 issue of Catster print magazine. Click here to subscribe to Catster magazine.

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It’s not difficult to find Russian Blues in Russia, Scottish Folds in Scotland, or Turkish Vans in Turkey — but try finding a Burmese cat in Burma. It’s not as easy as you think.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, increased development led to a large influx of people (and cats) into Burma, resulting in the rise of other cat breeds, and the Burmese was gradually diluted. A few purebreds were brought to the U.K., and one was brought to the U.S.

By 1930, true purebred Burmese were gone from Burma. Now these popular cats are virtually unknown to the Burmese people. The Inthar Heritage House’s Burmese Cat Conservation Project hopes to change that.

Photo by Dr. Arnold Plotnick

Photo by Dr. Arnold Plotnick

I visited the Burmese Cat Sanctuary on Inle Lake in November 2015. Chaw Su, the charming woman who manages the program, told me about its history.

Wong How Man of the China Exploration and Research Society saw it as a travesty that no Burmese cats could be found in his home country, so he brought some purebred Burmese back to Burma in 2008. The cats were selected carefully, and only seven made the grade.

Chaw Su talks about the Burmese cat conservation program. Photo by Dr. Arnold Plotnick

Chaw Su talks about the Burmese cat conservation program. Photo by Dr. Arnold Plotnick

Initially, the cats were housed at the Inle Princess Resort, where proprietor and conservationist Yin Myo Su contributed two bamboo huts to be used as a breeding facility. After a year, the number of cats grew rapidly, and a larger space was needed.

Photo by Dr. Arnold Plotnick

Photo by Dr. Arnold Plotnick

As I entered the sanctuary, I was greeted by a mob of friendly felines. Strewn with beds, a variety of perches, and numerous toys, the facility is a feline fantasyland. From the main cat room is a bridge that leads to a private island containing several small playhouses — replicas of King Thibaw’s Mandalay palace — for the cats to lounge in. A moat around the island prevents the cats from straying.

The cats were happy to be petted. Photo courtesy Dr. Arnold Plotnick

The cats were happy to be petted. Photo courtesy Dr. Arnold Plotnick

As a veterinarian, I looked closely for medical problems, but except for an occasional runny nose, all of the cats looked fit and healthy.

Photo by Dr. Arnold Plotnick

Photo by Dr. Arnold Plotnick

I asked Chaw Su about the breeding program.

“We have 40 cats here: 23 females and 17 males,” she said. “The breeding stock consists of seven queens and three toms.”

Photo by Dr. Arnold Plotnick

Photo by Dr. Arnold Plotnick

The Inthar Heritage House aims to preserve the cultural and natural heritage of the Inle Region. Burmese cats are part of this national heritage, and the Burmese Cat Conservation Program is well on its way to achieving its goal of repatriation of the Burmese cat to Burma.

Follow Inle Heritage on Facebook. Phyu Ley, one of the cats, hosts the House’s Twitter account.

About the author: Dr. Arnold Plotnick is the founder of Manhattan Cat Specialists, a feline-exclusive veterinary practice on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. He is also an author of The Original Cat Fancy Cat Bible. Dr. Plotnick is the former Ask the Veterinarian columnist for CAT FANCY magazine, and is a frequent contributor to feline publications and websites, including his own blog, Cat Man Do. He lives in New York City with his cats, Mittens and Crispy. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.