It has been documented that self-brown cats were known and shown in Europe in the 1890s. One of the names given these cats was “Swiss Mountain Cat.” These cats disappeared until the post World War II period, most likely because the Siamese Cat Club of Britain issued a statement around 1920 that, “the club much regrets it is unable to encourage the breeding of any but blue-eyed Siamese.” As a result, all solid-brown cats with non-blue eyes were excluded from Siamese classes at shows; and that was the end of brown cats as the early breeders knew them.
In the early 1950s, a group of English fanciers collaborated to systematically isolate the genetic design of a self-brown cat. Early experiments produced a chestnut brown male kitten named Praha Gypka, the result of mating a black shorthair and a chocolate point Siamese. However, it should be noted that a year prior to this planned breeding, an accidental breeding between a black shorthair and a seal point Siamese produced a self-chocolate male kitten named Elmtower Bronze Idol, the first Havana Brown to be registered in England and the forerunner of our present day breed. The sire of the black shorthair, also accidentally bred, was a black domestic, while the dam was a seal point Siamese.
Careful studies of pedigrees and written accounts of the founders’ original work show that the cats producing the early parentage of the present breed contained almost no Russian Blues and a small number of chocolate point Siamese. The most successful and most often used combination was that of a black shorthair and a seal point Siamese carrying the chocolate gene.
Introduction to North America
In the mid-1950s, Mrs. Elsie Quinn, Quinn Cattery, imported the very first Havana Brown from England, a female named Roofspringer Mahogany Quinn. She was bred to Laurentide Brown Pilgrim of Norwood, also an import, and produced the very first Havana Brown to achieve grand champion status in CFA (in 1959): Quinn’s Brown Satin of Sidlo. All of the Havana Browns in North America today can trace their heritage to this cat.
By the time the breed had received recognition in English cat registries, the breed name had been changed to “Chestnut Brown.” In North America it is not only the name Havana Brown that has been retained, but also the distinctive type of the cat. In England, breeding back to Siamese has continued; therefore, the original look of the cat has been lost. A Chestnut Brown of today would resemble our chestnut Oriental Shorthair in type.
Future survivial of breed
Approval of an outcross program carefully monitored and evaluated by an independent, expert geneticist is a must – in short, correcting a past program error. Today’s knowledge of genetics and advances in technology provide us with the tools to determine the degree of genetic diversity currently existing in a breed, and periodic evaluation can determine when outcrossing is no longer necessary.
Fortunately, immediate action to outcross this breed can work wonders. Experimental outcrossing to both a black domestic shorthair and an Oriental Shorthair have produced healthy, solid brown kittens in the first generation. Second and third generation kittens are currently on the ground and exhibiting good type. The introduction of this new bloodline to the beautiful Havana Browns still remaining is producing offspring beyond our expectations. The vigor can, and will, return to the breed, and so will a new generation of breeders eager to produce and promote this unique breed.
Leslie A. Lyons, Ph.D., Senior Staff Fellow, Laboratory of Genomic Diversity, National Cancer Institute, submitted a proposal to The Winn Feline Foundation concerning the evaluation of the health, genetic diversity and long-term consultation to manage the Havana Brown gene pool. Her proposal has been accepted by the Winn Foundation and we look forward to her contribution.
Havana BrownIn April 1998, Havana Brown Breed Council members again voted on a proposal regarding outcrossing this breed. The CFA Board will decide at the June 1998 board meeting whether or not to approve this proposal. This decision should be based on the scientific and statistical data presented. I have no doubt that this process will set a precedent on how these decisions are made in the future. Every breed recognized by CFA has its own history, and has developed in its own unique way. Any problems faced by a particular breed need to be recognized, defined and substantiated. Consultation with genetic experts and other professionals should then be brought to bear and all proposed solutions considered by the breed council members and the CFA Board of Directors. This process should yield decisions resulting in high quality specimens with regard to meeting the breed standard, general health and temperament for future generations.
Current breeding strategies
It is estimated that there are fewer than 1000 Havana Browns alive today, under 130 unaltered Havanas, and only approximately 12 active CFA catteries.
1. Bilello, HC