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The Himalayan Persian


by Linda Berg

INTRODUCTION

The Himalayan Persian cat is one of the most beloved of pedigreed cats. Enjoyed and appreciated by judges, pet owners and breeders, over 343,000 Himalayans have been registered since 1957. In 1998 there were 2,428 Himalayans shown; that is an average of 5.6 entries per show in kittens, championship and premiership. Himalayans have achieved over 41 national awards since 1981 and over 175 regional awards since 1992.

HISTORY

The Persian is a widely recognized and popular breed and formed the basis of the early hybridizations that resulted in the development of the Himalayan cat. The early evolution of the Persian most likely occurred on the high, cold plateaus of Persia (now Iran and Iraq). When these cats with a longer, silky coat were brought to Europe by the Phoenicians and the Romans, the Europeans were impressed. Over the years the Persian cat has been purposely bred to perpetuate and accentuate the longhair trait. . Work to develop the colorpoint Persian, or Himalayan, began in the U.S. around 1950. The genetics of the Siamese color were known to involve a single recessive color factor which produced both blue eye color and the colorpoint pattern. The colorpoint pattern (also referred to as the Himalayan or Siamese pattern) is caused by the Siamese gene, one of the genes in the albino series. All of the albino genes influence whether and where pigment will be deposited in an animal's hair and skin. The effect of the Siamese gene is also impacted by the temperature of the skin. Pigment (color and pattern) is deposited in the hair at the coolest parts of the body, the parts that receive the least circulation: the extremities of the body feet, face, ears and tail. The first step in working toward a colorpoint Persian was to cross the Siamese and the Persian. This early work was followed by years of breeding the offspring to obtain a group of cats with long hair and the colorpoint pattern. The colorpoint longhairs were bred back to Persians, and their offspring were interbred. After many years breeders had cats with many of the basic Persian characteristics and colorpoint coloring. At this point, the next step in the work began - that of obtaining breed recognition from bona fide registry organizations.

In England, Brian Sterling-Webb perfected his long-haired colorpoint over a period of 10 years. In 1955 he approached the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) and requested recognition for this new variety of longhaired cat. Since he and other breeders were prepared to describe and defend the work that had gone into the development of this new color, recognition was granted and the Longhaired Colourpoint was accepted as a breed in England.

In North America, Mrs. Goforth applied for breed recognition at the CFA Annual Meeting held in Washington, DC on December 18, 1957. Mrs Goforth contended that although the Himalayan standard was identical to the Persian standard, the cat was not a Persian, but a new breed of longhair. With this philosophy as a basis for the Himalayan, these cats received recognition and were granted foundation record registration with CFA. The rules governing the acceptance of new breeds and colors at the time required breeders to show three generations of pure Himalayan colorpoint breedings in order to be eligible for championship competition.

THE HIMALAYAN TODAY

Over the next ten years the Himalayan grew rapidly in popularity. The vast majority of Himalayans, however, failed to meet the breed standard, which called for Persian type. Many breeders had stopped using regular crossings to solid color Persians in their breeding programs. Instead, they were breeding existing colorpoint to colorpoint and as a result, the advancement of the Himalayan as a breed that met the Persian standard was small and, in many cases, not measureable. The Himalayan was becoming a long-nosed, colorpoint longhair.  

In the 1970s Himalayan breeders began to look at and evaluate the goals that they were attempting to achieve. It was apparent to many that they needed to begin to work in earnest toward breeding cats that had better Persian type. To accomplish this, they began to outcross to Persians on a regular basis, and kept the best of the offspring to be used in their breeding programs. After a time, colorpoint longhairs with better Persian type began to appear in the show ring. These cats looked more like Persians, and as a result, were able to compete with Persians for those coveted final awards.

The next logical question to follow was: If our cats look like Persians, and are now competitive in type with Persians, why are they competing as a separate breed? Many breeders began to discuss the possibility of creating a place for the Himalayans within the Persian division system. Even so, there were still a number of Himalayan breeders who enjoyed the "old" Himalayan style and whose cats could no longer compete in the show ring with the typier colorpoints. Some of these breeders began a movement away from the Persian type toward a standard that was based on the way the cats looked in the '60s. One glance at the Himalayans in the show ring today tells you that this vision was not achieved. In 1984 the Persian Breed Council had the following question on their ballot: "Should the current Himalayan Breed be accepted as a Division of the Persian?"

The question presented on the Himalayan Breed Council ballot, on the same subject was:

"The Himalayan Breed should: A) Remain as is B) Become a new division of the Persian Breed."

Both breed councils voted against the proposed change, and yet the CFA Board of Directors elected to move the Himalayan into a division of the Persian breed. The rationale for this highly controversial determination was that the decision added consistency to the breed structure. Bi-Color Persians had shorthairs behind their pedigrees and were considered hybrids, and yet they were accepted to championship in 1970; therefore, the fact that Himalayans had Siamese behind them should make no difference to this transition of acceptance as a division of the Persian breed.

For the last 14 years Himalayans have been consistently winning in the show ring. Overall type has dramatically improved, and many fine examples of the breed have gone on to achieve regional and national wins. As with any breed, the Himalayan is still a masterpiece in the making, but early and contemporary colorpoint Persian breeders can be very proud of where we are today.

COLORS AND PATTERNS

The Himalayan has made enormous progress in type over the past 20 years. Much of this is related to the devotion and the hard work of the breeders and some of it is related to the merging of the Himalayan breed into the division structure of the Persians. The Himalayan of today is a vastly different cat from what it was at its conception.  

In 1957 the Himalayan was recognized in CFA in seal, blue, chocolate and lilac point. These colors were followed by the flame and tortie points in 1964, blue-cream points in 1972, cream points in 1979, and lynx points in 1982. While seal, blue, chocolate and lilac points have been recognized the longest, it has only been recently that the chocolate and lilac point Himalayans have become competitive. Since 1992 we have seen a large increase in the number of chocolates and lilacs achieving grand champion status. The genetics of chocolate and lilac are complex. As a result, there have been only a few breeders willing to work with those colors. The improvement in type is a direct result of the dedication of these few breeders.

Chocolate is a recessive and in its homozygous state produces chocolate and lilac. In other words, both parents must carry the recessive allele for chocolate in order for any of their progeny to show the color. If the recessive color factor is inherited from both parents, the cat will show chocolate. If the recessive color factor is inherited from only one parent, the cat will be heterozygous for chocolate, carrying the chocolate factor invisibly and showing the colors of the dominant genes. These cats are known as chocolate "carriers."

The flame points and the tortie points have always been the darlings of the Himalayan world. With the contrast between the blue eyes and stark white coat of the flame point and the wonderful mottled patterns that can be presented in the tortie point, these are VERY striking colors. In addition, the tortie and flame points are known for their "special" personalities which we blame on the "red" factor in their genetic makeup.

The cream points and the blue-cream points are the dilute versions of the flames and torties. The cream points and the blue-cream points can be very striking with their softness of color, and often have a much clearer coat than their dominant relatives.

Last, but not least, come the lynx points, which are currently the most sought-after colors. The lynx points have striped or tabby points which separate them from other colorpoints. These colors are the result of the combination of the dominant agouti (tabby) gene and the recessive melanin-inhibiting gene of the Himalayan color pattern. Documentation of breedings between tabbies or silvers to Himalayans started showing up in the 1970s.

PERSONALITY

For the most part the Himalayan is not a hyperactive cat; that is to say, they are not moving all the time. They like to play and they are active, but they like their lap time and prefer to be doing whatever you are doing! The best way to describe colorpoint Persians is to say they are "people oriented." As I sit here writing this article I have a Himmy on my lap and another on my desk. They like their people! Himalayans will often attempt to "help" you do whatever it is that you are doing, whether it is reading the paper, making the bed or reading blueprints. (My husband just loves it when they help him read blueprints from work!) They ARE in the middle of all of your activities, and they express themselves with a wonderful melodious voice. All they ask of us is our complete devotion!

CARE AND MAINTENANCE

As with any longhair cat, the Himalayan requires grooming maintenance. The Himmy should be groomed on a daily basis, and weekly baths are not uncommon in many catteries. If you are thinking of entering a cat show, then the Himalayan requires a much more rigorous grooming schedule. (When I say rigorous, depending on the coat, it could mean a bath every other day! It all depends on the coat your Himmy is wearing.) For the most part Himalayans have been groomed and bathed since they were young kittens so they agree to the process without too much complaining. Breeders of the colorpoint Persian are sometimes criticized for breeding "extreme" cats with "pushed in faces" and "running eyes." Responsible breeders pay close attention to the overall beauty of expression no matter how short the nose. It IS possible to breed a beautiful Persian with a very short nose that breathes and tears normally. They are not PRONE to respiratory problems - they are generally healthy, vigorous cats.

THE FUTURE OF THE HIMALAYAN CAT

As popular as the Himalayan is, it is hard to believe that its fashionableness might diminish over the years ahead. Since there is not a specific disease or genetic fault that plagues the Himmy, we can expect that the breed will remain healthy well into the next century. As responsible breeders we do, however, owe the future breeders of the Himalayan cat a legacy of health, diversity and harmony. This means we need to face our health issues, such as PKD (Polycystic Kidney Disease) or PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy), head on and work to eradicate them from the breed so our Himalayans can remain healthy for the next generation of breeders.  

Which brings us to an important challenge facing us as breeders - the mentoring of new breeders. The cat fancy in general needs new breeders and new breeders need mentors. As you place your kittens with their new owners/breeders, take the time to use your expertise to teach them so that they can continue the breed in the same positive way that you have. We all know how easily one can be discouraged when there is no one with whom to talk over problems or questions. Take the time with a new breeder; it will pay off with healthy, happy Himalayans well into the future.

References
* Newton, N., "The Himalayan - The Impossible Dream." 1980 CFA Yearbook.
* Lamb, B., "Celebrating The Legacy - Renewing The Dream." 1987 CFA Yearbook.
* Lamb, B., "The Himalayan Persian...And the Dream Goes On!" 1998 CFA Yearbook.
* Jacobberger, P., CFA Judge.