by Susan Shoring, Secretary of the Gold Coast Cat Club
The Korat is an ancient breed that originated in Thailand some 600+ years ago, alongside the Siamese and the Burmese. This charming cat is one of the world’s oldest breeds and is noted for its beautiful, luminous eyes and magical silver-tipped blue coat.
King Chulalongkorn of Siam, or Rama V, reigned from 1868 – 1910 and was depicted as the ‘boy king’ in the musical ‘The King and I’. He was very fond of cats and is said to have given the Korat its name, to commemorate the province of Thailand that is its homeland.
‘Korat’ means ‘good fortune’ in Thai, although it is in its Thai name of ‘Si-Sawat’ that the Korat’s existence was first recorded. ‘The Cat Book Poems’ believed to have been produced during the Ayudhya Period of Siamese history (1350 – 1767), is held in the Bangkok National Library and contains this lyrical description of the Korat:
‘The hairs are smooth, with roots like clouds and tips like silver.
The eyes shine like dewdrops on a lotus leaf.’
The Korat is seen as a symbol of good luck: the silver coloured tips to its coat said to signify wealth, the sheen of its coat symbolises a gift of silver, and the green eyes resemble the colour of young rice plants, promising rich harvests and good fertility. In Thailand, a pair of Korats is often presented to a bride to bring longevity, wealth, and happiness to the couple.
To call for rains in its homeland, a Korat in a bamboo cage was paraded through the village, sprinkled with water and then set free. Such ritualistic processions persisted into the 1980s and do continue in villages, but rocket displays are now more favoured.
The first mention of the Korat in the West is in the records of the National Cat Show in London in 1896 where, ignorantly described as a blue Siamese by the judge of the day, a Korat was exhibited by Mr Spearman, a young Englishman who had just returned from Siam (now Thailand). The cat was, however, disqualified for not having the desired fawn coat, dark points, and blue eyes of the Siamese!
Nothing more was heard of the Korat until 1959, when a pair named Nara and Darra was presented to the American Ambassador to Thailand and sent to the United States to Mrs Jean Johnston, who commenced a breeding program with them. Interest in the breed quickly grew, with more Korat cats subsequently imported, and the Korat made its show debut at the Empire Cat Club show in 1964. By the next year there were enough owners to form a breed club with the aim of achieving recognition, and it was accepted for championship status in the US in 1966, as well as in Canada and South Africa.
In 1968 Mrs Evelyn Clarke and Mrs Stevens of South Australia imported the first pair into this country: the male Jalna Krah Manee (Thai for ‘Lord of the Manor’), and Sailways Star, a female. Gene pools in Australia received great boosts with the importation of US bloodlines in the 1970s and 80s, along with UK cats in the 1990s.
The Korat was imported into Britain in 1972, with the arrival of a four year old pregnant female called Brandywood Saeng Dueng, and an unrelated four month old male kitten named Samkelos Sahm. Korats were recognised in 1975 in the UK, but were not given championship status there until 1983.
The Thai government has officially recognised the Korat as a national treasure, in acknowledgement of its history and uniqueness, making importation of the cats difficult for breeders.
Stringent regulations control the breeding – Korat may only be bred with Korat, so its characteristics, type and temperament have been preserved. All the Korats today can be traced back to the original Thai imports, and Korat breeders can take great pride in the fact that the breed is an ancient and totally natural breed.
A medium sized puss, weighing between 3 and 5kg, the Korat has a muscular and powerful body, which is heavier in weight than in appearance. Its hind legs are slightly longer than the front ones; it has oval feet, and a medium length tail which tapers to a rounded tip. A heart-shaped head is complemented with a strong chin, a proportionate nose, and large ears which are slightly rounded at the tip and set high. Korat eyes are large, luminous and brilliant green in colour (amber in young kittens). The short blue coat with silver tipping is silky in texture and is matched with dark blue-grey or lavender nose leather and paws pads.
Grooming and shedding of these cats is minimal as there is no double coat, so daily hand grooming and a regular combing is all that is required to maintain a sleek and glossy coat.
Inquisitive, agile and intelligent, this gentle and loyal cat loves to romp and play, but dislikes sudden loud noises. It is a talkative breed and exhibits a wide range of different sounds, although not as vocal as the Siamese. It is sociable with dogs and other cats of similar temperament. It enjoys human company and does not like being on its own, demanding a fair amount of interaction with its owners: the energetic Korat likes to be involved in whatever its humans are doing!
Korat males are said to make good fathers if left with their kittens. However, they are unusually territorial and will hiss and growl at unknown intruders. According to legend, the males were sometimes taken into battle on the shoulders of warriors and would launch themselves ferociously at the enemy.
Its senses of sight, smell and hearing are believed to be unusually acute, and it is an excellent hunter, making it especially important to keep this breed as indoor-only kitties.
The Korat might be a relative latecomer to the West, and remains something of a rarity, but in looks and personality, this is a cat to remember.