The good luck cat of Thailand is strikingly beautiful, with brilliant green eyes that glow like jewels in an exquisitely soft setting of silver-tipped blue fur. Distinctly different from the blue British Shorthair, Chartreux, Russian Blue, and Nebelung (the other accepted blue breeds), the Korat is medium sized with a firm, semi-cobby body type. Neither compact nor svelte, this breed is muscular and supple with a feeling of hard, coiled-spring power and unexpected weight. The chest is broad with good spacing between the front legs. The back is carried in a curve. The legs are well-proportioned to the body with the front legs lightly shorter than the back; the distance along the back from the nape of the neck to the base of the tail appears to be equal to the distance from the base of the tail to the floor. The tail is medium in length and heavy at the base, and tapers to a rounded tip. A kink in the tail is permitted only if it is not visible; a visible kink is cause for disqualification in the show ring. Males weigh 8 to 10 pounds; females weigh 6 to 8 pounds. No outcrosses are allowed.
When viewed from the front or looking down from just in back of the head, the Korat’s head is heart-shaped with breadth between and across the eyes. The eyebrow ridges form the upper curves of the heart and the sides of the face gently curve down to the chin to complete the shape. The profile is well defined, with a slight stop between the forehead and the nose, which has a lion-like downward curve just above the nose leather. Both the chin and jaw are strong and well developed, neither overly square nor sharply pointed. The ears are large and flared at the base. They are set high on the head, giving the cat an alert expression, and have rounded tips. The ears are sparsely furnished inside; the hairs on the outside are extremely short and close.
The eyes are large, luminous, and particularly prominent, with an extraordinary depth and brilliance. They are well-rounded when fully open and oversized for the face. When closed or partially closed, they have an Asian slant. The preferred color is luminous green, but an amber cast is acceptable. Kittens and adolescents can have yellow or amber to amber-green eyes; the full luminous green color often is not achieved until the cat is mature, usually at two to four years of age.
The Korat’s coat is short, single, glossy, fine, and close-lying. It is accepted in one color and pattern only: solid blue tipped with silver. The silver should be sufficient to produce a silver halo effect. The hair is usually lighter at the roots; the blue gradually deepens until just before the silver tips. Adults are without shading or tabby markings, but ghost markings can be seen in kittens.
Although the Korat (pronounced koh-RAHT) didn’t enrich North American homes until 1959, this breed is an ancient one, as intriguing and mysterious as the land of its birth. The Korat comes from Siam (now Thailand), the same country that gave us the Siamese. Called “Si-Sawat” (see-sah-waht) in their native country, for centuries Korats have been associated with good luck.
Evidence of the Korat’s ancient lineage in Thailand can be found in The Cat-Book Poems, a manuscript of verses and paintings originally written in the city of Ayutthaya, Siam, some time between 1350 when the city was founded and 1767 when the city was razed by invaders. Most likely the oldest document about cats in existence, the manuscript illustrates and describes in verse 17 kinds of lucky cats, including the Siamese, Burmese, and Korat (called Maled in the document):
"The cat Maled has a body color like Dok Lao
The hairs are smooth, with roots like clouds and tips like silver
The eyes shine like dewdrops on a lotus leaf."
Dok Lao means the silver-tipped flowers of an herb similar to lemongrass. Maled means seed and refers to the silver-blue seeds of the ornamental Sawat fruit.
The Cat-Book Poems is hard to date accurately because the original manuscripts, painstakingly written and decorated with illustrations and gold leaf, were typically made of palm leaf. When a document became too old to be usable, a new manuscript was made. All work was done by hand, and the new scribe would often bring his own personality and interpretation to the work, which also explains the various versions of certain verses. This makes it difficult to trace when the original documents were created. At any rate, whether the document was written in the 1300s or the 1700s, it’s still extremely old, and indicates that the Korat is a very old breed. From the illustrations and descriptions, it appears that the Korat has changed little over the centuries.
The breed was apparently named after the Khorat Plateau region, a highland in northeastern Thailand, although the cat was likely common in other provinces as well. According to the story, the breed was named by King Chulalongkorn (1853–1910, the oldest son of King Mongkut who was portrayed in the musical The King and I). Upon seeing one of these beautiful blue felines, the king said, "What a pretty cat—where is it from?" He was told, "Khorat, your majesty." King Chulalongkorn commissioned a beautiful copy of The Cat-Book Poems on special khoi paper (made from durable fibers of the Streblus asper tree). This accordion-style document, known as the Smud Khoi of Cats, still hangs in a locked and well-guarded glass case in Bangkok’s National Museum.
Breeder Jean Johnson of Gresham, Oregon, is credited with importing the first Korats into North America. Johnson lived for six years in Bangkok, where she tried unsuccessfully to buy a pair of Korats; even in their native country Korats are rare and greatly prized. In 1959, however, she was presented with a pair of Korats as a gift when she and her husband returned to the United States. The brother and sister, Nara and Darra, were from the famed Mahajaya Cattery in Bangkok. In 1961, breeder Gail Woodward imported two Korats from Thailand, a female named Mahajaya Dok Rak, and a male named Nai Sri Sawat Miow. Gertrude Sellars imported another female, Me-Luk. Added to Jean Johnson's two, these cats were the foundation of the Korat breed in North America.
Other fanciers became interested in the breed, and during the 1960s more Korats were imported from Thailand. Getting the cats from Thailand wasn’t easy, so the number of Korats in America grew slowly. In 1965, the unaffiliated Korat Cat Fanciers Association (KCFA) was founded to protect and promote the breed. Only cats proven to come from Thailand were allowed into the breeding program, which earned the breed the name “the good luck cats with the Thai passports.” Korat breeder and KCFA secretary Daphne Negus helped write the breed standard, and the small group of Korat breeders banded together and worked hard to exhibit the breed and bring the Korat association recognition. One of their primary goals was to preserve the original Thai conformation, the appearance the Korat had had for hundreds of years.
In 1968, Daphne Negus traveled to Bangkok and managed to acquire an additional nine Korats to bring back to America, which was an immense help to the limited gene pool.
In 1966, CFA accepted the Korat for championship, and other associations soon followed. Today, all North American cat associations recognize the breed. Since those early days, the Korat population has grown slowly because breeders are more concerned with quality and health than quantity. Still, the good luck cat of Thailand has gained acclaim and dedicated fanciers.
The Korat is a rare breed and you’ll usually need to get on a waiting list to acquire one. According to CFA’s 2014 registration totals, the Korat ranks 40th out of the 41 breeds CFA recognizes for championship. Find a breeder you trust—cat shows are usually great places to meet quality breeders—and get on her list. Be patient; Korats are worth the wait.