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Originally christened the Leopardette, the Bengal cat is a hybridization of domestic cats and Asian Leopard Cats (a small wild cat). In 1963 Jean Sudgen of Yuma, Arizona purchased a female Asian Leopard cat (named Malaysia) from a pet store. Believing the cat to be lonely, she put a black domestic cat in her cage for company. The animals mated and produced two kittens, a male and a female called KinKin.
Sadly, the male was fatally mauled by Malaysia but KinKin was safely removed and raised by a Himalayan queen. Jean contacted Cornell University who predicted that KinKin would be sterile. This proved to be incorrect when KinKin was mated back to her father and delivered two kittens. A black female and a spotted male. Due to the sudden death of her husband this project was abandoned.
In 1980 Jean contacted geneticist Dr Willard Centerwall who was working on a breeding programme which involved crossing Leopard Cats with domestic cats. This was part of a study of Feline Leukaemia. Jean Sudgen (now living in California and remarried as Jean Mill) obtained several F1 (the F stands for Filial) hybrids from this programme.
While in India in 1982 Jean and her husband came across a tailless feral domestic male with markings similar to that of the leopard. He had been living in a rhino enclosure at Delhi zoo. Jean imported this cat (named Millwood Tory of Delhi) back to the United States and he was mated with the female hybrids. Other domestic breeds were used in the breeding programme including Ocicats, Egyptian Maus, Abyssinians, Bombays and British Shorthairs. The breed obtained official recognition with TICA in 1984.
The Bengal cat is a medium to large cat with a long, muscular body with robust bones. Its hind legs are slightly longer than the front legs, the feet are large and oval. The head is a broad modified wedge, which is longer than wide, with small ears and pronounced whisker pads. Eyes are black rimmed and almond shaped. The tail is thick, tapering to a black tip. The coat is thick, beautifully sleek and soft feels more like a pelt than fur. The belly is whited and should also have spots.
There are two Bengal patterns. Spotted and Marbled.
Spotted: The spots should be dark and clear, with a crisp outline with a good contrast to the background colour. The spots can be either solid, arrow-shaped or as rosettes. Spots should be found on the body, including the belly, the legs will have spots and or stripes. Spots should be random or horizontal in alignment.
Marbled: The marbled pattern consists of contrasting horizontal swirls along the side of the cat. The contrast must be extreme.
Glitter: Bengal cats have a gene known as the glitter gene. It is believed this came from the kitten Jean Mill imported from India. It is a recessive gene and is highly desirable in the Bengal. It looks as if a handful of gold has been sprinkled over the coat.
Bengals are intelligent, active, energetic cats. Due to their ALC ancestry, many Bengals have a love of water. They are agile, love to climb and can be vocal with a distinctive voice . They get along well with other pets and people. Bengals enjoy high places and are enthusiastic climbers. Many Bengal owners have trained their cat to walk on a harness, so they can enjoy the great outdoors in safety.
If you are out a lot of the time it is recommended that you get your Bengal a companion so that he/she doesn't become lonely.
Words used to describe Bengals include: active, playful, willful, energetic.
Traditional Tabby colours: Brown Spotted and Brown Marbled.
Sepia Tabby Colours: Seal Sepia Spotted Tabby and Seal Sepia Marbled Tabby.
Mink Colours: Seal Mink Spotted Tabby and Seal Mink Marbled Tabby.
Silver Information and a Brief Guide to Genetics
In recent years, Silver Bengals have taken off over in the USA and the United Kingdom. Here in Australia some breeders have started breeding silvers and have been concentrating on producing top quality silver Bengals.
The silver colouring is the result of an inhibitor gene (I) that takes out the yellow pigment in the coat of a full-colour cat.
It is also possible to produce silver snows.
Silver is dominant, so in order to produce a silver kitten, one or both parents must be silver. It is also possible for two silver parents to produce brown kittens if neither is homozygous for the silver.
Silver can be homozygous (II) or heterozygous (ii), cats with either of these combinations will look silver, but the heterozygous cat will carry the non-inhibitor gene (I) as well. Two homozygous silver cats will produce all silver kittens, who will also be homozygous for silver. Two heterozygous silver cats will be capable of producing silver or brown offspring.
- 25% homozygous silver (II)
- 25% brown (ii)
- 50% silver (li)
but capable of producing brown offspring, ie: heterozygous.
A homozygous silver crossed with a heterozygous silver will produce on average:
- 50% homozygous silver kittens (II)
- 50% heterozygous silver kittens (Ii)
If the inhibitor gene is not working properly then some kittens will have a tarnished look, ie: brown colouring breaking through.
When choosing brown spotted/marbled cats to breed with, current information advises using browns with clear coats and very little rufous colouring to lessen the chances of tarnished kittens.
It will be more difficult to identify silvers in snow breeding programmes and is not advisable unless carried out by a very knowledgeable breeder.
Silver Bengal information kindly provided by C. J. Winchester of Bengals Australia
Many thanks to Chris of Bengals Australia for providing me with some of the photos used on this page.