THE KHMER (FRENCH COLOURPOINT LONGHAIR)
The Khmer Cat is described in “Son Altesse le Chat” 1935, Jean Rieger, and in 1966 by Fernand Mery. Mery noted the similarity of emerging colourpoint Persians (Himalayans) to the existing French Khmer, although the photographs of the Khmer suggested a semi-longhaired cat. Mery noted that it had a breed standard albeit one not recognised by FIFe, however the term Khmer had been dropped back in 1955 when Colourpoint Longhairs and Himalayans were being simultaneously developed in America/Canada and Britain.
"La Vie a Campagne" in the late 1920s showed a semi-longhaired Khmer. Its origin has been conflated with that of the Birman: a pair of Khmer cats were supposedly taken to Paris from Indochina by a French serviceman - a tale very similar to that of the Birman (two Birman were reputedly obtained by Major Gordon Russell from Burmese priests whom he had helped escape to Tibet; when he went to live in France in 1919 he took his Birman cats with him). This suggests that the French Khmer was a poor-man’s Birman; one that lacked the characteristic white gloves and boots of the Birman.
According to Rieger in 1935, the Khmer got its name because of its Indo Chinese origin and because it presented itself as a variety and type quite different to the Birman despite a few points of resemblance. There were, at that time, few representatives of the newly formed Khmer breed and the only known specimens were in France. He wrote that five or six years previously (1928/9), an old soldier returning from Indo China abandoned a couple of young cats of unknown race with a farmer in the Paris region. The cats matured and bred freely, but many of the offspring died from lack of care. In 1934, Rieger acquired the finest specimens sired by the original male, but the original female had died, leaving a daughter to maintain and perpetuate the breed (the fate of the parents is the inverse of the Birman story). By 1935, there were many young females and he believed the Khmer’s future was assured.
From Rieger’s descriptions, the Khmer was a good size cat with a strong frame giving the impression of strength balanced with harmony emphasized by looks and intelligence. Males weighed 4.5 - 6 kg, and females weighed 3.5k - 4.5kg. It had a strong, round head and a rather short nose with a small mouth. Despite the small mouth, it had powerful jaws with slightly protruding canine teeth. Its whiskers were white ticked with brown and were up to 14 centimetres long. Its eyes were round and very slightly diagonal. They were bright blue, reflecting red (as per other colourpoint cats).
The body was long with a straight, level back and a broad chest and solid rump. The legs were strong and muscular, the front ones being slightly arched. The feet were long furred (tufted) with brown pads. The tail was long, long-furred and had no kinks or nodules (unlike the Siamese of the time). It was carried low with the tip slightly raised.
The fur was long, forming a ruff around the neck and forming waves under its belly. The colour was like that of the Birman i.e. cream shading to dark otter brown on the head and a little lighter on the legs and tail. In full sunlight, the Khmer appeared golden.
As with other colourpoints, the kittens were born pure white. They developed a characteristic greyish undercoat at 3-4 days, but this disappeared at around 4 or 5 months. At about 6 months the body was almost white, the markings were neat and the mask was splendid, but as the cats matured the body darkened and there was less contrast between body and points. Unlike the Birman, which had white gloves and boots, the Khmer’s legs were completely brown . When Rieger wrote his account, there were still problems of white toes inherited from foundation cats. White toes were reserved for the Birman and were undesirable in the Khmer.
Overall, the Khmer was described as a rare beauty, comparable to the Persian for its beautiful fur. It also had remarkable intelligence and a mild nature making it an ideal companion cat that adapted well to apartment life. Given its freedom in the countryside, it was a good hunter and there excellent ratter. Khmers loved their owners and were playful, they were also sociable with other cats. They had less raucous voice than the Siamese.
Outcrossing to common cats, Persians or Siamese resulted in poor quality offspring, but Rieger reported crossing his Khmer male to a Saigon-bred Siamese female and getting good Khmer offspring with the breed-characteristic grey undercoat in kittenhood. Khmer kittens (averaging 3-4 in a litter) were said to be sensitive to the cold and they needed a meat diet, not a milk diet. At that time, milk diets were commonly given to growing kittens, which probably led to high mortality rates.
At the time he wrote his account, Rieger expected a Khmer club to be formed. In the fullness of time, the Khmer vanished and the Birman and Himalayan both thrived. Today, the Khmer is regarded as either a proto-Himalayan or a bootee-less Birman.