hen exploring the natural evolution and subsequent development of the Tonkinese breed, we discover that the history of how the Tonkinese breed came to be is very much entwined with the Siamese & Burmese breeds, from which the Tonkinese derives. Yet the unique appearance exhibited by the Mink-pattern that defined the breed initially was for a long time overlooked in favour of the striking Siamese that had become very popular at the time.





A modern history - and a breed 'recreated'
It was not until the mid-1960's, when Jane Barletta from New Jersey, and Margaret Conroy from Ontario in Canada, in separate breeding experiments began combining the genes for both breeds once again, a practice that had been avoided and frowned upon in the latter development of both the Siamese and then Burmese breeds.

The resulting cats displayed what we now know to be the intermediate of 'Mink' pattern, and had aquamarine coloured eyes.

From about the 1950's the type of the two breeds had begun to diverge from one another, with the Siamese being bred as a more refined body and head-type, whereas the Burmese was developing in the opposite direction, being a more compact shaped body-type and expressing a shorter and wider face.

The potential to develop these as a separate breed was buoyed by the reality that the breeds of Siamese and Burmese were now also markedly different in type, and that the combining of the two very different breeds to create a third breed would not just display a different pattern but a body and head-type that was also very different to that of both parent breeds.

They named the breed 'Tonkinese' in reference to the Gulf of Tonkin region of Indochina. Some reports suggest that the physical location of the Gulf of Tonkin sits neatly between the locations of Burma and Thailand, yet a look at a map will reveal otherwise. The name has also been suggested to relate to the musical South Pacific where half-breed or mixed race people were referred to as 'Tonkinese'

Jane Barletta & Margaret Conway by this time were familiar with each others' breed programs and subsequently collaborated, along with a Mary Swanson from California to consolidate their work and devise a provisional breed standard. The breed was then accepted for registration by the CCA (Canadian Cat Association ) in 1965, and was then granted championship status in 1971.

There was and continues to this day some challenges to the acceptance of the Tonkinese as a distinct breed, and the road to acceptance was a slow one. However by 1978, the Tonkinese was accepted for registration in the USA by the Independent Cat Federation, the Cat Fanciers Federation and finally the Cat Fanciers Association.

By the 90's in the UK, the Tonkinese breed was growing in popularity, and had also been developed from the parent breeds of Siamese and Burmese, which in Europe had evolved very differently as parent breeds to those that appeared in the USA. This accounts for the great difference between Tonkinese that derive from the USA as opposed to Europe.

Tonkinese as an 'established' breed were recognised in the UK by the GCCF in 1991. And a decade later the GCCF finally granted Championship status to the Tonkinese in 2002, yet only the intermediate or 'Mink' pattern. The 'pointed' and 'solid' patterned cats were referred to as 'variants' and were not eligible for championship status until as late as 2013

The breed has been developed in Australia since the 1990's, and in many respects is still in it's infancy as a breed. Currently the various pedigree cat registration bodies that exist within Australia, are mostly in agreement as to what is accepted in the breed standard, yet with the addition of new colours and patterns in some cases the breed is constantly under revision as it continues to evolve.

In the information above we have explored the modern history of the Tonkinese breed, and that of it's parent breeds; the Siamese & Burmese, yet some remarkable documents exist that confirms that the genetics that gave rise to all three breeds of Siamese, Burmese & Tonkinese, are very ancient indeed.

 An Ancient history indeed !

The Tonkinese is often referred to as one of the 'naturally-occurring' breeds, in that the genes that gave rise to the Siamese, Burmese & Tonkinese all occur naturally as colour mutations that spontaneously appeared cats in South East Asia, and were then subsequently developed as a separate 'breed'



In the various countries where the Tonkinese is popular - the breed continues on it's evolutionary path, as do all breeds. While there remains huge diversity of type, the breed does struggle somewhat with acceptance amongst the pedigree cat community.
Here is Australia a core group of breeders are working together to consolidate type in order that the breed find greater acceptance and promotion as a breed that 'breeds true'.
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