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(A historical and characteristic overview)


-- There is general agreement that establishing the foundation of the present-day "domestic bengal cat" (DBC) belongs to Jean Mill. Her original idea was to produce a feline that had the appearance or "look" of the wild cat (in this instance, the Leopard Cat, or more commonly, the Asian Leopard Cat, abbreviated in the present document as "ALC"), but, as importantly, the calming/sweet temperament of the domestic variety. Others, of course, have added and contributed to the gene pool over the years, creating many different bloodlines, which generally, has enhanced the overall beauty of this fascinating animal. Still, Jean is responsible for the majority of the initial ground work (through her selective breeding programs). What follows, here, is a brief chronological overview, that essentially reflects the sequence of events that led to the development of the DBC.

----In 1963, as the story is told, while living in Yuma, Arizona, Jean bought a female ALC from a pet shop (these cats were readily available in the early-mid 1960's). Because the animal seemed lonely in her outdoor pen, a black short-haired domestic tomcat was added to keep her company. At that time, many experts believed a successful mating between divergent felines could not happen, but a little female hybrid, named "Kin-Kin," was born, nonetheless. This cat, in turn, produced a second generation litter, even though authorities at Cornell University said Kin-Kin was probably sterile (which leads us to believe the experts don't know everything, and perhaps, more importantly, nature always seems to find a way). However, because of the death of her first husband in 1965, Jean moved from Arizona to Claremont, California, but during this transition, gave up her fascinating hobby (no DBC has a genetic link to Jean's first ALC and to Kin-Kin).

----Beginning from 1975, Jean resumed her breeding programs after acquiring eight female ALC hybrids from the late Dr. Willard Centerwall, a physician and geneticist at Loyola University, and later, at UC Davis (in Calfornia). Centerwall was involved in research isolating the genes that are responsible for the ALC's immunity to feline leukemia (FeL). Once he had drawn blood samples from these hybrids, he needed homes for them, and welcomed Jean's offer to keep the cats for further scientific study (and, not surprisingly, for her breeding programs). He also shared her dream of producing, what she called, a "tame toy leopard," and became an enthusiastic supporter of her quest. As an addendum, research, using the blood taken from the ALC and their early generation offspring, has, for many years, been used at the National Institute of Health (NIH); such studies continue today. It is hoped, by examining the differences and changes that occur in the blood of these animals, that a cure for leukemia and similar disorders can be found (both, for man and his feline friend). With the advent of new technologies and techniques to manipulate, and thus, effect change(s) at a genetic and cellular level, cures, may someday be possible (it is noted, that some private catteries in the United States, that have early-generation ALC-hybrid breeding programs, still contribute blood samples to the NIH).

---In 1980, while in India, Mrs. Mill found and brought back to California a male domestic street cat (a kitten). This animal's overall coloring and markings came close to the "look" of the ALC, but also had a coat that was very glittered, with dark hues and shades of orange-redness (rufous type colors). As this cat matured, it was bred to the Centerwall female hybrids, the offspring of which, according to most authorities, became the genetic foundation for the present-day DBC (in a sense, the initial "gene-pool"). Historically, then, one could say, that the "type" or "look" of this beautiful cat, and all its major characteristics, including the glitter and the pelted coat, can be traced to Jean's early generation cats. Such facts are probably true, at least, as they relate to the majority of the DBC bloodlines. However, others, most notably, Doctors Greg and Elizabeth Kent, of Kansas, were also breeding ALC hybrids during this time (initially, with a female domestic Egyptain Mau, and an ALC male named Baghara Khan). Jean took an interest in their hybrid programs, and bred two of her females to Baghara Khan (further enhancing the overall gene pool and intensifying the Bengal type). So, although Jean is credited with laying the foundation for the DBC, others also contributed. Interestingly, the Kent bloodlines are considered, by some, to be the most genetically "pure," thus, more closely approximating the "wild look" of the ALC. This, of course, is a matter of conjecture, and as such, should be put into proper perspective.

---Despite varying opinions, and sometimes, disagreements, concerning the purity of particular ALC hybrid bloodlines, the Bengal Cat remains the only domestic feline whose genetic makeup is directly linked to a wild cat (this is often referred to, as "having wild blood"). Nonetheless, through selective breeding, Jean demonstrated that it was possible to produce hybrids, especially second and later generation felines, that, for the most part, had (1) some of the physical traits and "look" of the ALC, had (2) more predictable and stable temperaments, and had (3) no significant "ill effects" or malformations due to hybridization. It is largely due to her efforts, that TICA (The International Cat Asssociation), in 1984, recognized the Bengal Cat as a distinct domestic breed.


-- Genetically, Bengal Cats are sometimes referred to as "domestic/Leopard" hybrids, since they are descendants from a cross between two different breeds or genera (in this case, between the ALC and the domestic shorthair cat). More correctly, however, most authorities list the first three generations as true Leopard Cat Hybrids (a few sources list the first four). Some of the domestic felines used in early breedings to produce these hybrids were the Egyptian and Indian Maus, the Ocicat, the Burmese cat, and non-pedigreed domestic cats. The offspring of these matings were bred back to the ALC to establish, in a sense, the classic or initial foundation cats. As an addendum, it is noted, at least as of 2008, that many states do not allow ALC and other wild cats to be kept as pets, most notably, the states of New York and Georgia. However, some states, that are adopting such policies do allow later generation ALC, beyond F-4, in the home.- Likewise, with special permitting and under "protected species status,"- abandoned wild cats can to be kept in zoo-like environments until suitable and safe habitats can be found for them. Many of these policies, however, are likely to be changed as states begin to crack-down on back-yard breeders (that keep wild animals under poor conditions).- It is our opinion, that all states will probably adopt some form of "protection and use" policies and laws regarding the keeping of wild animals, which in the long run, will help all species, cats or otherwise.

--- It is generally agreed, the first three generation hybrids be referred to as the foundation generations (FG) or foundation Bengals, listed as F1, F2, and F3; some in the trade include the F4 in this category (the "F" designation comes from the latin word filius, meaning son. The genetic meaning of "Filia" refers to a generation or sequence of generations, following the parental generation). F1 to F4 are not considered to be domestic bengals (even though the F4, as an example, is listed at a domesticated level by most authorities). However, despite minor points of contention or disagreement, concerning the "filius" designation, F4 and later generation Bengals are, for all intensive purposes, classified as true domestics. They are also listed and referred to as SBT by official domestic cat organizations and by the general cat fancy (i. e., Studbook Tradition, TICA, 1984), and are eligible to be judged/exhibited at sanctioned cat shows. F1 to F3 cats, on the other hand, cannot be shown because of known or unpredictable behavior (i. e., they can be wild, and sometimes bite. In the early days, this was a problem when judging and examining such cats). Although the language or nomemclature of hybridization can be confusing, cross generational breedings can, nonetheless, be briefly summarized as follows:
F1 - is the cross between the ALC female and a domesticated male Bengal.

F2 - is the second generation cross, the offspring of the F1 and the domestic Bengal.

F3 - is the third generation cross, the offspring of the F2 and a Bengal.

F4 - is the cross between an F3 and a domestic Bengal (i. e., to be considered a true F4, the domestic Bengal must have, at least, an ALC great-great-grandparent in their "bloodlines").

--- In terms of offspring, the breeding of the first three generations usually produces infertile males (these cats are neutered and placed as pets into qualified homes); females are normally fertile. Concerning temperament and structure, any progeny of ALC and FG breedings will inherit, in variable gene combinations, the genetic markers and attributes of their parents. Generally, F1 hybrids have many of the physical features of the ALC, while F2 and F3 felines, and their SBT cousins, have more of a domestic appearance. These observations are not surprising, however, since the further each generation is removed from the ALC, the look of the "wild cat" becomes less (due to the greater influence of the domestic genes). Likewise, since we are injecting, in a sense, a genetic overlay of the domestic cat, creating a more complex gene pool, a preponderance for specific traits can appear (i. e., the domestic genes for some attributes are more easily expressed, become more dominant, or, show dominant tendencies). In fact, if one is not careful in their breeding program(s), the influence and propensity of these genes can sometimes increase to the point where the offspring have very few of the distinguishing characteristics or "look" of the ALC. Here, the gene pool becomes significantly diluted and the primary genetic markers for good Bengal type, fade (literally). Therefore, knowing your "bloodlines," and always maintaining good breeding stock are very important to the successful breeder. (As an addendum, we acknowledge that there are many BACKYARD breeders, the so-called "cat mills."- Here, MONEY is the primary motive, whereas the welfare and betterment of the breed is only an afterthought. This is unfortunate, but in a "free market" society such as ours, not totally unexpected. We can only hope that these people quickly fail, as they discover that the care and overall maintenance of our beloved breed is not an easy undertaking).

--- Due to the genetic influences of the domestic cat, some of the physical traits not seen in the ALC, but which appear quite often in the DBC, are: shorter length bodies, overly large pointy ears that are vertically set, pronounced circular heads, to many vertical markings or bars, faded markings, sharp pointy long tails, and many unwanted colors or color combinations, among others. However, since the original intent of Mrs. Mill was to develop a feline with the "Look" of the wild cat, but with the stable behavior of the domestic, it is nice to know that the genes responsible for good temperament can be easily expressed in later generations (in general, for cats greater then F4). As one would expect, human interaction and early socialization are also very important in overall behavioral development, and their importance should never be underestimated.

--- Briefly, in order to successfully produce and maintain a gene pool for good Bengal type, one should have: (1) a fundamental understanding of their bloodlines and cat genetics (i. e., which characteristics tend to be dominant, and therefore, may be more easily expressed in the offspring), (2) keep accurate/descriptive records and pictures of all breedings, (3) are willing to invest time and financial resources, (4) are judicious in selecting only the best cats for breeding (and know what "best" really means), (5) understand the importance of maintaining a healthy cattery, and (6) are willing, if the need should arise, to enlist help and advice from the more experienced breeder (i. e., help in recognizing traits or genetic tendencies that can increase the chances of producing beautiful cats).- Likewise, one must have realistic expectations (not every kitten is going to be top show or breeder quality), be vigilant in over-seeing their program (have a clear idea where they are going), and have a certain degree ofobjectivity. In this regard, the breeder must be willing to "clean house" when needed (petting-out/replacing non-producing cats, and introducing "new blood" in the process). Here, a primary goal should always be to improve the breed, so that the offspring are better then the parents. Something as simple as an out-cross to bring better attributes or characteristics into the "gene pool," or a specific line-breeding to maintain good traits, are often necessary. This does not happen overnight and may take many years to accomplish, as well as a lot of patience, hard work, money, the occassional heartache, and quite honestly, a "roll of the dice," sometimes. Simply producing inferior cats to make a quick "buck" is not condoned by the serious and conscientious breeder. This short-sighted mentality, by what is commonly called, the "backyard breeder," only produces cats of poor quality. Such practice, significantly dilutes the gene pool for good bengal type, and, in the long view, is detrimental to the breed. The process, then, to produce beautiful DBC's that have the "ALC look," can be challenging and frustrating at times, and to be honest, is not for everyone.

--- Without going into great detail, solid spots and rosettes, adequate coloring, and to a degree, proper body length, tail, and good whisker pads, are fairly easy to reproduce. On the other hand, producing a good head, which is somewhat rounded, with a strong jaw (no under or overbite), and a small, correctly placed, rounded tipped ear set, can be more difficult (e. g., some breeders prefer a triangular "look" of the head, but if you examine pictures of the ALC you will notice that there is, in general, a degree of roundness in its structure). In the present time, breeding for beautiful natural coloring, clearly defined or differentiated markings (such as rosettes), and no bars, have been the "flavors of the day," and continue to be so. However, now, the emphasis is on producing, as best as possible, a good head, with small, correctly set, non-pointy ears (a challenging endeavor, to be sure). It is interesting to note, that the benefits of the DBC and FG hybrids are important, at least according to some feline experts, who consider them to be the healthiest and most intelligent of cats. Therefore, their contribution to the "gene pool" may have significant influence or hold the "key" to the overall future health of all domestic cats? This, of course, remains to be seen, but it will be interesting to follow future events. ( The picture, above-right, is taken from an issue of the 1995, The Bengal Bulletin, and suggests how ALC and FG cats appear when viewed from the front; the ears, however, are somewhat large in the "f" generation cats depicted. Notice the angular type/placement of the ears or "ear set," the eyes, the degree of roundness and angular structure of the head. The whisker pads are prominent in both the ALC and the domestic Bengal).


-- The temperament of FG Bengals can be erratic or even wild. Likewise, they are often shy, making their demeanor hard to predict or measure. From a strict behavioral standpoint, their emotional response to stimulus is determined or influenced, not only by parental heredity (e. g., behavior based on genetic background or history), but just as importantly, by (1) individual disposition, by (2) the relationship between environment and their adaptability, and by (3) how they are raised and handled. These influences, of course, also apply to the later generation domestic Bengal, although they are more important to captive ALC and to F1-F4 hybrids (i. e., in early generation breeding programs). Temperament, of course, can be complex because of the human component and environmental factors that can severely impact, and thus, shape overall behavior. Therefore, early socialization is especially important and should never be underestimated. So, if you are going to be a responsible breeder, you have to socialize the kittens (around three weeks is a good time to start).

-- Because of the aforementioned observations, but especially for those who are considering an FG cat as a pet for the home, special care and handling are needed. Here, you have to structure or create, as best as you can, an environment that suits the cat's overall nature. In other words, make his new home a comfortable, safe, and quiet place. If you have, as an example, a noisy household with small children running around, it's probably not a good idea to have an FG cat. On the other hand, an FG kitten that is lovingly hand-raised, may, in some environments, adapt easily, exhibiting a calm and affectionate disposition as they mature (however, you can never be absolutely certain). Nonetheless, because of their wild tendencies, we strongly feel FG cats are not suitable for the majority of households. So, if you are looking for a Bengal as a companion or pet for the home, what you should be considering are SBT cats (later generation, beyond F4). At these genetic levels, they have, for the most part, reached domesticity, are easily cared for, and have a loving and care-free nature. They are also the most commonly available to the trade, since most Bengal catteries breed only later generation cats (Champion Flare and Imaginique's Trinity , shown below, are examples of SBT Bengal cats).


-- Although the domesticated Bengal Cat has physical traits resembling those of the forest-dwelling ALC, it is their beautiful coats that make them so appealing. Specifically, cross-breeding these cats has produced markings, pelting, glitter, and for the most part, deeply pigmented color variations that are unique among domestic cats. We will briefly cover these attributes, saving the characteristics of pelting and glitter for the last of our discussion.

COLORS , whether on the background or the foreground markings of the coat, can be in single or multiple/mixed schemes (e. g., the marbled cat has a multiple colored coat, see picture, left). As one would expect, colors can be light or dark, with various shades or hues between (deeply or lightly pigmented are commonly used to define the saturation of color in the coat). Several colors are recognized by TICA , including mink, sepia, brown, seal lynx point, silver, among others. There are, of course, many color variations that can appear depending on genetic heritage, but for the most part, the many shades and hues of light brown and lightly tanned rufous colors (i. e., shades of "red"), and mixtures of these, are quite common; occassionally, solid colors such as black, and blue-type coats apppear. As one would expect, serious and conscientious breeders are continually striving to maintain some of the "LOOK" of the ALC, while at same time, establish a gene pool that consistently expresses background colors that contrast and highlight the foreground markings (such as, clearly differentiated rosettes or solid spots). To be avoided are bloodlines that express markings and colors that are "washed out," are too darkly saturated, or that significally fade with maturity. This process or task can be difficult to do, and takes many years of specific breeding and experimenting. In this regard, one needs to understand which bloodlines PRODUCE , not only the best color, markings, temperament, and anatomical structure, but more importantly, consistency and uniformity in the offspring.

The foreground MARKINGS that appear on the background color of the coat, such as spots, bars or stripes, and arrangements or mixtures of these, are to an extent, unique to this beautiful cat; markings can appear on the coat in an infinite number of ways, this is called a pattern or patterning. The primary markings are spots and a swirling type colored coat called marbled. The spotted markings are the most prevalent, consisting of solid and rosetted types. Bars and stripes are considered to be secondary markings, since serious breeders want to increase the number and intensity of spots in their "bloodlines," and reduce, as much as possible, the occurrence of the other. Concerning the common spotted varieties, whether they be solid or rosetted, or a combination of the two, should visually standout, with the background color clearly highlighting these markings. There should also be spacing, called acreage, between spots, so that they are easily visualized (but never equally spaced, especially in a vertical plane). Such markings, should appear in the middle-body, extending towards the back and front, with stripes and bars (if they appear), confined to the rear and front of the chest (sometimes, along the shoulder, hip, and leg). Vertical bars on the main body are to be avoided, but appear, from time to time, in most "bloodlines" (vertical bars in the middle of the body are a major fault). Rosetted markings, which are highly desirable, are a lightly colored irregular shaped spot surrounded by a darker outline; these markings sometimes fad as the cat matures. Different sizes and shapes of rosettes, such as arrowhead, cat's paw, and more rounded-shaped types, occur frequently. As you would expect, solid spots, rosettes, and other markings will vary in number, in pattern, in size, in shape, in color, and in type. Likewise, no two cats will have exactly the same markings and patterns. Such variability in attributes are due, exclusively, to the dominant and recesssive nature of genes in the "bloodlines," which, in turn, express the various traits and characteristics observed in the cat (SBT Champion Flare, pictured above-right, is a good example of a rosetted domestic Bengal Cat; note the color of the coat and markings, and the acreage between rosettes).

As previously discussed, all cats have a coat of some description, with certain colors and patterned markings. However, there is something special about the texture, and overall appearance or "look" of the Bengal coat. Here, two primary features or properties are clearly observed:

(1) The overall coat tends to be highly PELTED ( i. e., it is short, compacted, and smooth, with a velvety texture, or a silk-like feel to the touch ). This trait is easily introduced into the gene pool, and although it is observed in other breeds of cats, it is more pronounced in the Bengal. However, the degree of pelting and overall smoothness is variable. Such features are determined by the length and structure of the hairs, and how they are placed on the overall body. In the Bengal, as compared to other cats, the coat is always shorter, more compact, and therefore, the degree of pelting is more evident (a common occurrence, related to pelting, is that the coat of the marbled cat, as an example, is generally, smoother and more tightly compact then that of the spotted Bengal).

(2) When light of sufficient intensity is directed onto the cat, the coat will appear to shine or glow . This phenomena, or more correctly, "effect," is called GLITTER (a "glittered coat"). It is unique to the Bengal Cat, and its characteristics are easily passed from one generation to another, but in varying degrees of intensity. It is produced because the individual hair tips have a hollow-air-space-type structure that easily refracts light, and when superimposed on a smooth, short, and deeply pigmented background or surface, glows when illuminated. Not all hair tips are glittered in the same way, and there can be a lot of variability (e. g., some hairs have only "gold glitter" on their tips, which is different from the standard hollow hair-tip structure). Also, various degrees of coat textures often affect the refractive properties, and therefore, the intensity of the glitter. For the most part, Bengals that have more glitter usually have shorter, velvet-napped coats (e. g., occasionally, "non-glittered" or "ticked" coats appear, and have a "washed-out" look. Here, the individual hair tips are light-gray or off-white, and do not have a clear hollow-type structure, and therefore, minimal refractive properties). Jean Mill was one of the first to introduce the refractive characteristics of glitter into the "gene pool" (in the early 1980's). As previously mentioned, she used a domestic shorthair "streetcat" from Delhi, India, that was highly glittered and rufoused, with deep brown rosettes. Interestingly, the Bengal is the only breed of cat noted for its glitter. But, it is not part of the "standard for the breed," and although a desirable trait, is not a necessary component or criteria for exhibiting at cat shows. Nonetheless, it sure makes an impression on the judges and the general public. However, simply not having a highly glittered coat, does not mean the cat, in question, is of poor quality; there are structural or physical attributes that are more important. One of our queens, Trinity , above-left, is an example of a glittered and marbled SBT Bengal (pictured at 10 months of age).


-- In choosing a Bengal Cat for your home, take your time in selecting the right one.

(1) Don't be afraid to ask questions no matter how insignificant they may be. Conscientious Bengal breeders will be more than happy to spend the time to address all of your questions .

(2) Aways look for a friendly, out-going kitten. Bear in mind, these are kittens we are talking about. Often they will not want to sit calmly but will be constantly moving around. Be patient and watch how they move and interact with you, the breeders and the other kittens.

(3) Ask to see the parents if that's possible. If you are selecting a cat via the internet or by telephone, you'll have to rely on the honesty and integrity of the breeder, and on other means of communication (such as the world-wide-web, and pictures or "jpegs"). Just remember, that pictures do not always reflect the nature and true beauty of the cat you may be considering.

(4) Concerning cost, there are major differences or degrees of quality, such as pet quality, breeder quality, and show quality. As an example, a top-of-the line breeder/show quality cat can be as high as $3500.00. A good pet quality kitten can usually be purchased from between $900.00 - $1000.00, to as high as $1500.00 (depending on quality). However, don't expect the serious and conscientious breeder to apologize for the cost. After all, they have spent years and thousands of dollars investing, to produce these beautiful animals (developing their special "bloodlines"). Remember, you do get what you pay for. Just be aware that there are many backyard breeders out there, selling cats on "the cheap" (If the price sounds to good to be true, it probably is). So, be careful. If you have questions or concerns, pickup the telephone. If you feel that your questions are not being answered or that you are getting the "run-around," politely hang up the phone and call someone else. You'll be able to tell, soon enough, who is an honest and a loving breeder of these cats.

(5) Always ask the breeder about the cat's overall physical condition, making sure to ask for a health certificate and a health warranty, in writing. If they do not have this, you should find a cattery that does.

In closing, remember that reputable and honest breeders will answer your questions objectively and truthfully, and will always supply, in written form, a "statement" of health in their purchase agreements or contracts. So, enjoy your little friend, for he will grow quickly, but will give you a life time of love and companionship. (Reference statement for information in this article is listed below) .


The context of this article, including page layout, was designed and written by IMAGINIQUE BENGAL CATS, Inc.- Its content is copyrighted, and use of the material, in any way, is strictly prohibited (unless permission is granted from the author).- Some of the information in this article was obtained from cat journals, a few "online" sources, and the "The Bengal Bulletin," (March 1995). The majority of information is based on our own knowledge and from discussions with other experienced breeders over the years. However, if you wish to use any of our "text" in an article, or, on your own web site, you are granted permission to do so, but only if you give credit and "list" us as a reference in your writings.

COPYRIGHT © JANUARY 2001, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. To obtain specific information regarding
permission to use or quote sections of this article, call (1-813-949-5590) or E-MAIL Imaginique Bengals