The Mandalay is a breed that was developed in New Zealand independently of the UK development of the Asian Shorthair group, but with much the same outcome – a cat of European Burmese type and temperament but without Burmese colour restriction. The colour range includes self blacks, blues, chocolates, lilacs, cinnamons, fawns, reds, creams, caramels and apricots, and tabbies and torties in all those colours. The majority of tabbies are ticked, but spotted, classic and mackerel tabbies have also been bred. Many tabbies are shaded/golden, but this hasn’t yet been formally recognised in registrations. Recently, silvers and smokes and the new colour/pattern russet have been added as well.
The history of the breed began more than 30 years ago with two accidental matings of Burmese queens to domestic shorthair males. A litter of red kittens was produced by a cream Burmese queen in the South Island, and a litter of black kittens to a seal/brown Burmese queen in Auckland. Both breeders were very taken by the striking colours and strong Burmese type shown by these kittens, and bred them on by back-crossing to Burmese for several generations. They quite quickly gained recognition and became successful on the show bench.
Later, the cinnamon and agouti genes (and it subsequently became apparent the dilute modifier gene also) were introduced by deliberate outcrosses to an Oriental shorthair and a sorrel (cinnamon) Abyssinian. An imported UK Bombay (black Asian Shorthair) has also contributed to the gene pool. Back-crosses to Burmese continue to be very common. The original South Island line was unfortunately lost as far as we know, but the original black, North Island line is still behind the current cats.
About 40 years ago a line of silver, smoke and tabby Burmese was produced by another group of New Zealand Burmese breeders, from outcrosses of Burmese to a silver tabby domestic shorthair and a tabby-point Siamese, then repeated back-crosses to Burmese. This line has now been combined with Mandalays to produce silvers and smokes.
Mandalays are intended to be identical to (European-style) Burmese in every respect except coat colour – they have the same build, coat texture and temperament. The proportion of non-Burmese ancestry is now very small. They should have golden yellow to amber eyes regardless of coat colour, with deeper eye colour preferred. They generally have better eye colour than litter mates with Burmese coat colour restriction.
There are currently only five registered breeders of Mandalays in New Zealand, and fewer than 20 breeding cats, although the ongoing availability of outcrosses to Burmese does allow access to a wider gene pool.
Russet Burmese and Mandalays
Russet is a completely new colour mutation/sport which occurred spontaneously in 2007 in registered pedigree New Zealand Burmese (European style). The genetic change causing the new colour pattern has been identified by Professor Leslie Lyons and her research group, and a DNA test is now available from UC Davis.
The colour and its changes as the cat matures are similar to those of the amber Norwegian forest cat, and the two colours are separate, independent mutations of the same gene. There are some differences between the two, particularly in the nose leather and paw pad pigment, and the degree of difference seen in coat colour between agouti and non-agouti cats.
Russet kittens change colour very dramatically as they grow, changing from looking very like tabby kittens (regardless of whether they are genetically tabby or not), to having the coat progressively overlain with more and more reddish colour, until some look almost entirely reddish as mature adults. The base colour usually remains visible in the undercoat of the back and upper flanks. The red colour is similar to, but less intense than the red of sex-linked reds, and has a more tan tone in Mandalays (full colour expression).
There are no health issues associated with this colour, and temperaments are outstanding. Of course, being a colour rather than a breed, they are in every other respect indistinguishable from other Burmese.
Most russets have entirely traditional Burmese pedigrees, with no outcross programmes behind them at all. However, the gene has also been introduced by one of us to the Mandalay breed (the New Zealand equivalent of the Asian shorthair). Only two breeders currently produce russets, and we would very much like to spread the risk of losing this striking colour by getting more people involved.
Ticked tabby and spotted tabby Mandalays Mandalay and kittens
Adult male russet
Enigma, seal russet Burmese kitten aged three months, showing the changing pigmentation