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    Place of origin

    Riverside County, California, and various other locations


    Since the first cat shows in England, small wildcats and crosses between domestic cats and wild cats have been bred and exhibited. No crosses, however, have been more successful that those between the Asian leopard cat (ALC, Prionailurus bengalensis) and domestic cats (including Egyptian Maus, Indian Maus, and Abyssinians) that formed the foundation of the modern Bengal breed.

    In 1889, Harrison Weir described a rich-colored brown tabby that was purportedly a hybrid between the "wild cat of Bengal" and a female tabby cat; this animal was exhibited at the Zoological Society Gardens in London. In 1934, an ALC–domestic hybrid was documented in a Belgian scientific journal, and in 1941 a Japanese cat publication printed an article about a pet ALC–domestic hybrid. In 1946, Jean Sugden, who would later be considered the founder of the Bengal breed, submitted a term paper about hybrids for her genetics class at the University of California, Davis.

    The ownership of small wild species of cats was popular throughout the world at one time, especially in the United States from 1940s through 1960s. Retail stores commonly offered both wild-caught and domestically bred ALC, ocelot, margay, and other such species as pets. There were numerous attempts to hybridize these with domestic cats to improve their temperaments and suitability as pets; the sterility of the male hybrids proved an obstacle.

    In 1963, Jean Sugden (now) Mills bred her first ALC–domestic hybrid and proved that a female hybrid could be successfully bred back to a domestic male cat. She was not alone in breeding ALC– domestic hybrids at this time: five were born at a zoo in Tallinn, Estonia that same year; the Long Island Ocelot Club reported ALCs being bred to Siamese and Burmese cats in 1968; and by 1972 Bill Engler had crossed ALCs to American Shorthairs to produce what he would officially call the Bengal. His cats came in a wide variety of colors, including red and tortoiseshell. Engler's cats came in for much criticism because the first- and second-generation Biblehybrids proved too wild to make good family pets.

    Although various owners of wild cats had produced hybrids, none had gone on to develop a domestic breed from them. Hence, the credit for the modern Bengal breed is given to Jean Mill, who went on to develop the breed in the following decades. The initial hybrid cats she used to create the Bengal breed had been part of two university research projects. Once these cats had donated their blood for research, they were placed with breeders who proceeded to develop these unique cats into a breed in the 1980s.

    Around 1982, Jean Mills and her husband visited India, where a zoo curator showed them a rosetted feral "Indian Mau" living in one of the enclosures. Named Millwood Tory of Delhi, he is credited with introducing the glittered effect into the breed. The modern Bengal breed is derived from crossing ALCs with a variety of domestic breeds: Abyssinian, American Shorthair, Burmese, Egyptian Mau, and some nonpedigree cats.

    Research into mapping the feline genome has also been performed by evaluating the genetic results of mating the ALC to domestic cats. Other breeders around the world created new lines of ALC crosses that were used to expand the gene pool. Purported margay or ocelot crosses (called Bristol Cats) have also been incorporated into the Bengal breed. The Bristol was purportedly derived from margay–domestic hybrids, but only ever numbered a few individuals before dying out due to poor fertility. In 1991, the last fertile Bristol females were absorbed into Bengal breeding programs. Those Bengals bearing Bristol blood inherited a more robust type, small ears, and superior rosetted markings.

    The Bengal gained recognition in 1986 and rapidly became one of the most popular breeds in the United States. Although the Bengal breed is also popular around the world, recognition-and even legality of ownership-in some countries has been hampered by its hybrid origins. The Bengal must be a least the fourth-generation descendant (F4) of a crossing between the wild ALC and a domestic cat. The first three foundation crosses are the F1s, F2s, and F3s.

    Physical description

    The wild appearance is emphasized in these cats by selective breeding toward large, rounded, "nocturnal" eyes; a straight nose; small ears set far back on the head; prominent whisker pads; a long neck; and a muscular body. Bengals are medium to large cats, with females usually weighing from 6 to 12 pounds (3–5 kg), males 10 to 18 (4.5–8 kg).

    The coat is soft and dense, often described as a "pelt". What really sets the Bengal apart from any other breed, however, is its coat color pattern. In the spotted pattern, the spots may have the appearance of open rosettes with different shades of color. They are aligned in neither a vertical pattern nor a circular pattern, but rather in a random pattern that flows horizontally across the cat's body. The marble pattern is a modification of the common classic tabby pattern: instead of "bulls-eye" circular stripes, the pattern is stretched horizontally into a unique multishaded pattern not seen in any other breed of cat.

    Colors and varieties

    To prevent it from becoming "just another tabby breed," the Bengal is currently recognized in brown/black, spotted (including rosetted), and marbled colors only. The background color varies from gray to golden red, with deep brown to jet-black markings. The underside may be nearly white. This may be modified by the albino series of genes inherited from Siamese and Burmese ancestors, resulting in pointed (snow), sepia, and intermediate (mink) varieties, which have paler coat colors and blue or aqua eyes. The increasingly popular silver and silver smoke Bengals have nearly white backgrounds with black or dark gray markings. All of these colors occur in spotted and marbled patterns. Some Bengals have a high degree of glitter (a metallic sheen) in the coat, complementing the background color.


    The Bengal breed was developed for those who might have otherwise considered bringing a species of wild cat into their homes, so this breed is definitely not for those looking for a mellow lap sitter. Breeders are careful to well socialize their kittens at an early age to keep in check their natural tendencies toward stubbornness and overly aggressive play. These can be headstrong cats who need a firm owner to give them guidance on the rules of the house. Their agility and intelligence make them excellent candidates for feline agility competitions and learning to walk on a leash. They are as serious about their displays of affection as they are about their playful pursuit and destruction of their favorite toys.

    Activity level


    Vocal level


    Special needs

    Although most Bengal breeding programs have progressed many generations beyond the initial crosses to ALCs, some programs continue to use "early generation" breeding cats. Cats from these programs may have some undesirable characteristics from their wild cat ancestors, including aggressive behavior or poor litter box habits. In addition, males from these matings may be sterile.


    The Bengal's wide gene pool means a number of variations occur naturally due to recessive genes. Blue-based colors may appear from time to time, recessive to the black-based colors, and cats of these colors have been exhibited toward possible eventual recognition. Solid black Bengals are being used in developing the Pantherette, which is still in the early stages of development and is meant to resemble a panther. The Toyger is a mackerel-striped version being developed to resemble a miniature tiger. Pardino and Cashmere are names that have been proposed for longhaired Bengals, although these are not currently recognized by any registry. Bramble is the name used for a variant in development as a wirecoated Bengal. The Bengal has been crossed with a number of other hybrid breeds and with a number of small wildcat species in the hope of creating additional hybrid breeds.

    Snow marbled Bengal

    From The Cat Bible, Copyright by Sandy Robins, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with I-5 Press

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