There's a panther on the prowl in our pantry

THE BOMBAY:

It might be said that it's very careless of him, but when the leopard loses his spots he becomes a creature even more terrifying to his prey. The Black Panther is the colour and the essence of darkness; a predator whose coat sucks in the frantic noises of the awesome night, leaving only silence and the glint of unwavering eyes in the livid moonlight.

I wonder if the small intelligence of the delicate gazelle, slipping into an asphyxiated unconsciousness, gives thanks that it is such a Lord of Creation taking its life, rather than an ignoble end, frightened and run to exhaustion by a pack of yapping bush dogs?

This is the stuff of nightmares, but who can fail to be captivated and overwhelmed by the savage grandeur of the jet-coloured big cat? Was it a desire to live in the company of a miniature version of such beauty that prompted a closer look at the potential of the kittens sired by the black domestic shorthair, Bagpuss?

BAGPUSS?

Hardly the most exotic of names; surely he should have been named Bagheera? The 'Bag' bit's OK and, I suppose, by adding 'Puss', a more gentle, domesticated note is emphasised, but it does rather smack of pipe, slippers and cardigan.

Be that as it may, Bagpuss appears to have been something of a Lothario when it came to the wooing of Miss B. Oliver's brown and blue Burmese females, Duchess Elsa and Blue Viola. From these two queens, Lochibank Thomas and Lochibank Princess became the founders of two distinct lines which recombined in the female, Patkai Black Naga, in turn gathering in another Burmese x Bombay line, the Bombay being a chap called Harry Black.

The early days:

These are the rather bald statistics of the activity taking place in the early 1980s and they conceal the personalities at work, then and now. A great moving force was retired Burmese judge, Margaret Somers, of the world-famous Kevitor line of Burmese cats. Because she had earned much respect in the world of pedigree cats, she was taken seriously in her promotion of the new Bombay variety.

However, it is always extremely difficult to get hard-working reputable breeders to join in the development of a new variety; they are often enthusiastic, but generally highly involved in their own particular breeding programmes. Too involved, for the most part, to do anything practical. Margaret Somers had a great ally in Pat Blevins of Patkai cattery, but when Pat died suddenly in 1986, it was to Pat Impson that Margaret turned for someone to carry the torch.

Pat Impson is a remarkable woman whose strength of character and physical bravery leads all who know her to cherish the friendship. Her Boronga Burmese cats were already well known when she took on Addreesh Piyada and her daughter, Patkai Black Naga. These females, together with the gift of Kanelique Black Savanna, a Harry Black grandson, ensured the breeding lines from which Pat Impson was to breed significant numbers of Bombays. The missionary zeal which Pat brought to bear on the development of the variety has been the key to success with significant numbers of Bombays delighting the eye at shows throughout Britain.

Meanwhile, in America:

Interestingly, in the United States, the variety known as the Bombay has an even early provenance than in Britain. In 1958, Nikki Horner, a great breeder of Burmese and Persian cats, dreamed of the possibility of a black Burmese. She crossed a brown Burmese with a black American Shorthair. The resulting copper-eyed beauty was so like an Indian black panther that Nikki christened the new race, Bombay.

By 1976, the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) had accepted the Bombay as a championship variety and, by 1989, the female, Opium, was imported into France, closely followed by the male, Bagheera. It is through my personal friendship with Michel le Hir in France and Yvonne and Bernard Grin in Switzerland that the history of the Bombay in Western Europe is known to me. Not just the history, but also the problems regarding health and breeding which have assailed the American-based Bombay.

HYBRID VIGOUR:

In breeding cats for pretty restricted characteristics of shape and colour, the smorgasbord of genes becomes fairly limited. To continue the analogy, while it's great eating smoked salmon and caviar for a while, the novelty wears off and the menu gets tired; it needs variety. In bringing in other, unrelated lines, a genetic signature is given the boost of hybrid vigour.

Thus it was with the British Bombays in which genetically sound lines were brought together, creating a further upgrade of fertility and actual physical strength in the newly created race.

This was not necessarily the experience in the United States and in Europe with the American-based lines. In the first instance, the original crosses provided a much-needed boost in breeding viability, but the American Burmese cats were already being challenged by some significant genetic anomalies with the effect of the hybrid cross only 'hiding' problems which emerged in future generations when breeding lines were recombined.

It would be stupid to suggest that all American lines of Burmese are faulty, but there is an increased incidence of inherited malformations of heads and faces.

It was found that where the rogue gene existed in the so-called 'new look' Burmese in America, then 25% of the offspring would be affected, produced increased cranial doming (encephalitis), abnormal eyelids, reduced upper jaw and face and exaggerated whisker pads with the mouth unable to close and the teeth badly misaligned.

Sadly, these defects were introduced with the early American Bombay imports into France.

The situation was so serious that Drew Noden, professor of anatomy at the New York State College of Veterinary Medicine wrote to the Burmese Cat Club: 'My advice is to completely avoid introducing this strain into Great Britain.'

Since the British Bombay is so dependent on regular crossing to top-quality Burmese to maintain type standards, the genetics committee of the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy responded rapidly to the situation and agreed an addendum to the Burmese Standard of Points to read:

'.. with immediate effect, no imported Burmese, nor their progeny, shall be registered with a GCCF Burmese breed number. If a Burmese cat is imported and bred from, when sufficient evidence is available to confirm that the contemporary genes are not present in the descendants, the registration status of this particular cat may be reviewed ..'.

CHARACTER OF THE BOMBAY:

The Bombay variety is based very much on a development from Burmese and, therefore, it is hardly surprising that many of the personal characteristics of Bombays reflect the Burmese temperament, together with the subtle restraint of their domestic shorthair forebears.

Burmese (Bombay) cats are addictive. I am reliably informed that as kittens they have all the athleticism and lack of fear of an Olympic gymnast, and their antics lead one to believe they have studied at the twinkling feet of an Olga Korbut or Nellie Kim! Curtains are for swinging on; the tops of doors provide ample opportunity for perching and head swiping; no void is too far to jump ? especially if valuable ornaments provide the means for rapid deceleration. Own any Burmese-based kitten-cat and your home will never be the same again. It has been said that inner-city playgrounds look tidier!

I have known Bombay cats with a marginally more restrained outlook on life. They might even have tolerably quieter voices, although they remain great conversationalists. Their joy in life is to be shared with the owner, who is also companion-friend to be cherished at all costs.

And there we have it. The bond between cat and human is almost visible. They are the most loyal of creatures; the most loveable and among the most beautiful to the eye. As the polished patent leather coat zooms by, the golden eyes of the kitten-cat gleaming with excitement; a joyous greeting bellowed. The invitation to play is issued. You would be a fool to refuse.

GCCF STANDARD OF POINTS:

The Bombay belongs to the Asian Group, which is a group name used for cats of Burmese type, but non-Burmese coat colour, coat pattern or coat length.

Cats of the Asian Group are elegant, of medium foreign type: the overall type should be similar to the Burmese. A tendency to Siamese type or the cobbiness of the British shorthair is not permissible.

Note: in Asians, the females are smaller and much daintier than the males.

Head: wide at the jaw-hinge, with a good width between the ears and with a gently rounded top. The wedge should be short and, in profile, a distinct nose break should be apparent.

Ears: medium to large in size with a rounded tip and set well apart, continuing the angle of the upper part of the face to produce a butterfly-wing outline from the front. In profile, the ears should have a slight forward tilt. Very slight ear tufts are acceptable in Asian Shorthairs. Firm chin. Even bite.

Eyes: full and expressive, set well apart, and though they should be slightly oriental in set, they should be neither almond nor round. The eyes may be any colour from yellow through chartreuse to green, depending on the variety. In Selfs (ie. the Bombay) gold is allowed.

Body: the body should be medium length and thickness with firm muscle, and the back should be straight from shoulder to rump. The chest should be generous, but not disproportionately broad.

Legs and paws: the legs should be of medium length with the hind legs slightly longer than the front ones, paws tending to be oval in shape.

Tail: medium to long; elegant, carried proud and should be of medium thickness, tapering slightly to a rounded tip.

Coat: the coat of the Asian Shorthair should be short, fine and lying close to the body.

Coat colour: one of the chief characteristics of the Bombay is a coat that looks like black shimmering patent leather. The coat must be very close-lying to produce this effect, as well as jet black to the roots in the adult cat.

Note: kitten coats sometimes need time to develop full pigmentation and the patent-leather effect.

Eye colour: gold or yellow through chartreuse to green.

Nose leather, eye rims and paw pads: nose leather and eye rims solid black. Paw pads solid black or very dark brown.

SCALE OF POINTS:

Type: Head: 15
Ears: 05
Eye Shape and Set: 05
Body: 10
Legs and Paws: 10
Tail: 05

Colour and coat:
Coat Colour 20
Eye Colour & Rims: 10
Length and Texture of Coat: 10

Overall condition and temperament: 10

Total: 100

INFORMATION :

The Burmilla-Asian Association is: an association which has a wide-reaching influence. Information can be obtained about all cats in the group from: Baroness Miranda von Kirchberg, 65 Gibson Square, London N1 0RA Tel: 0171 359 4650.

The Bombay Cat Club: Monica Whitaker, 44 Oakhurst Road, West Moors, Dorset BH22 0DS. Tel: 01202 895346

© Alan Edwards, February 1997