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The origins of the Birman are shrouded in the kind of mystery and legend that delight most cat fanciers. It is believed that they trace their beginnings to the sacred temple cat of Burma (now known as Myanmar), where they were companions to the Kittah priests. While we may never know about their ancient history, we do know that the Birman was introduced into France in the early part of the 20th century. But exactly how the breed got to Europe is a bit of a mystery in itself. Some fanciers credit Major Gordon Russell, an officer of the British army serving in Burma, with bringing a pregnant cat named Sita to France in 1919. Her offspring started the Birman line in the West. The French cat registry recognized the Birman as a breed in 1925, naming it Sacre de Birmanie. The French are credited with preserving the Birman line during World War II, when its breeding numbers dwindled. Outcrossing with Persians and Himalayans helped ensure the breed's survival during that time. Birmans first arrived in the United States in 1959 and were recognized in 1967 by the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA).
The word Birman is derived from the French spelling of Burma, Birmanie, because it was the French who first introduced the Birman to the cat fancier.