Siamese (cat)

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The Siamese is one of the first distinctly recognized breeds of Oriental cat. The exact origins of the breed are unknown, but it is believed to be from Southeast Asia, and is said to be descended from the sacred temple cats of Siam (now Thailand).[1] In Thailand, where they are one of several native breeds, they are called Wichien-maat (วิเชียรมาศ, a name meaning "moon diamond" ). In the 20th century the Siamese cat became one of the most popular breeds in Europe and North America.

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History

The pointed cat known in the West as "Siamese", recognized for its distinctive markings, is one of several breeds of cats from Siam described and illustrated in manuscripts called "Tamra Maew" (Cat Poems), estimated to have been written in the 18th century.[2]

It is often said that the breed was first seen outside their Asian home in 1884, when the British Consul-General in Bangkok, Edward Blencowe Gould (1847–1916),[3] brought a breeding pair of the cats, Pho and Mia, back to Britain as a gift for his sister, Lilian Jane Veley (Veley went on to co-found the Siamese Cat Club in 1901). However, in 1878, U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes received "Siam", a gift from the American Consul in Bangkok; this cat was also the first documented Siamese to reach the United States, and predates the Siamese's arrival to the UK by 6 years.[4]

In 1885, Veley's UK cats Pho and Mia produced three Siamese kittens. These kittens – Duen Ngai, Kalohom, and Khromata – and their parents were shown that same year at London's Crystal Palace Show, where their unique appearance and distinct behavior made a huge impression. Unfortunately, all three of the kittens died soon after the show. The reason for their deaths is not documented.[5]

By 1886, another pair (with kittens) was imported to the UK by a Mrs. Vyvyan and her sister. Compared to the British Shorthair and Persian cats that were familiar to most Britons, these Siamese imports were longer and less "cobby" in body types, had heads that were less rounded with wedge-shaped muzzles and had larger ears. These differences and the pointed coat pattern, which had not been seen before by Westerners, produced a strong impression—one early viewer described them as "an unnatural nightmare of a cat." These striking cats also won some devoted fans and over the next several years, fanciers imported a small number of cats, which together formed the base breeding pool for the entire breed in Britain. It is believed that most Siamese in Britain today are descended from about eleven of these original imports. Several sources give Gould's brother Owen Nutcombe Gould (1857–1929) as the British Consul-General in Bangkok, but Owen was only 27 in 1884 and not known to be in Bangkok. In their early days in Britain, they were called the "Royal Cat of Siam," reflecting reports that they had previously been kept only by Siamese royalty.[6] Later research has not shown evidence of any organised royal breeding programme in Siam.[2]

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