Come for the lake, stay for the cat village
EVERY pet lover has heard of the worldfamous Burmese cats. Except maybe in Myanmar.
That may be about to change. At Inle Heritage House, founded in 2009, an official Burmese Cat Village has been established. To cater for fans of the breed, as well as other visitors, there is also Inle Heritage Bed and Breakfast, a Hospitality Vocational Training Centre, an aquarium, a cookery school and a chemical-free farm.
“I heard that pure Burmese cats had been extinct since the Second World War in Myanmar. We started this project in order to conserve them,” said conservation project manager Nang Myat Chaw Su.
Today, most Burmese cats are descendants of a single female called Wong Mau, who was taken from Myanmar to America in 1930 and bred with an American Siamese. “Since then, American and British breeders have developed distinctly different Burmese breed standards,” she said.
Burmese cats are prized throughout North America, Europe and Australia, though rarely seen here in their country of origin. To rectify this deficiency, Wong How Man of the China Exploration and Research Society brought some pedigree Burmese cats back to Myanmar in August, 2008. “Our founder Ma Yin Myo Su has a good relationship with Mr Wong, and helped him to acquire them. Three came from England and four from Australia.”
Those original seven have now multiplied to 40, including four kittens. Three of the kittens are of a different breed, so that the Burmese can experience diversity.
“We want them to know about living with other cats and to learn skills from the adults, but we’ll separate them when they grow up.”
About 10 of the survivors from the other cats born of the original seven have been adopted through a special program run by Inle Heritage to find the cats loving homes with Myanmar families.
“If a family is eager to adopt a Burmese cat and they know how to take care of it, they can apply for adoption. They have to undergo an interview, and we reject any applicants who we think will not look after the cat properly,” said Nang Myat Chaw Su.
Foreigners resident in Myanmar also apply, under the same strict conditions, but adoptions are exceedingly rare – twice a year, at most. Successful foster parents pay about K600,000 (US$466).
Burmese cats have a weak immune system, so excellent care is essential. Two of the staff at the village pay particular attention to this. The cats are fed three times a day. “At 8:30am, we feed them rice with steamed beef, they get dried food for lunch, and in the evening we feed them rice with boneless fish,” she said.
There are five 30-minute visiting periods a day, between 10:30am and 2:30pm, as well as a 20-minute site visit with a guide who explains the history of Inle Heritage. Visitors are allowed into the cats’ compound, which looks like a big cage equipped with a cat gym, scratching posts and toys, located on a small island connected to the mainland by a bridge. Next to the cage is the house, which is locked securely when they sleep at night.
“When we open the door in the morning they all came out. Then at bedtime, about 4 or 5pm, they go home without being told, because they are more intelligent than other cats,” said Ma Nang. The mother cats teach their children where to relieve themselves.
A vet from Taunggyi comes to Inle Heritage once or twice a month to check their health. “If one of them looks unwell, we bring in the vet from the nearby village,” she said.
Breeding is permitted once a year. “It’s controlled for health reasons. We also spay and neuter based on their behaviour and intelligence levels, and after consultation with the vet.”
Most of the cats are chocolate brown, the most valued kind, but there are also blue cats, and a single lilac. Their fur is particularly soft to the touch, but sheds easily: Be prepared to take a stiff brush to your clothes if you hug them.
Word of the presence of the Burmese in Myanmar has been spreading since their appearance at the 2013 Yangon Pet Show. “We’ve had a lot of people come visit since then.”
Inle Heritage is located in Innpawkhon village, Inle Lake, northern Shan State. No entrance fee is charged, and the staff are very hospitable. The nearby restaurant serves authentic Shan dishes and has an aquarium showcasing fish endemic to Inle Lake. It’s definitely worth a visit.
A signpost at the cat village directs travellers toward the feline friends.