Come for the lake, stay for the cat vil­lage

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - MYO SATT

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.

Pho­tos: Myo Satt

A sign­post at the cat vil­lage di­rects trav­ellers to­ward the fe­line friends.

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