A Brief History of the (Bengal) Universe
By Kate Williams
Whilst the Bengal Cat as we know it today has it's roots in the 1960's, with it's development picking up pace in the early 1980's, the first reports of 'hybrid' cats being developed date to the 19th Century.
According to an article (published by Gregory Kent, Ph.D. and Elizabeth Kent, M.S. in 1997) records from the English Cat Fancy circa 1871, suggest the the Spotted British Short Hair was a hybrid - the result of a mating between a feral spotted jungle cat and a domestic cat.
1871 - Crystal Palace
The development of the Cat Fancy as we know it today is accredited to Harrison Weir. The following extract is taken from his book “Our Cats”.
"Many years ago that, when thinking of the large number of cats kept in London alone, I conceived the idea that it would be well to hold “Cat Shows,” so that the different breeds, colors, markings, etc., might be more carefully attended to, and the domestic cat, sitting in front of the fire, would then possess a beauty and an attractiveness to its owner unobserved and unknown because uncultivated heretofore. Prepossessed with this view of the subject, I called on my friend Mr. Wilkinson, the then manager of the Crystal Palace. With his usual businesslike clear-headedness, he saw it was “a thing to be done.” In a few days I presented my scheme in full working order: the schedule of prizes, the price of entry, the number of classes, and the points by which they would be judged, the number of prizes in each class, their amount, the different varieties of color, form, size, and sex for which they were to be given; I also made a drawing of the head of a cat to be printed in black on yellow paper for a posting bill. Mr. F. Wilson, the Company’s naturalist and show manager, then took the matter in charge, worked hard, got a goodly number of cats together"
This was in 1870, with his vision becoming a reality of the 13th July 1871 as the first organized cat show was held at the world famous Crystal Palace in London. In addition to staging the show, Harrison Weir, also determined the rule / standards by which the exhibits were judged against.
Several breeds were exhibited at this show, including: Persian, Angoras, Manx, Abbyssinian and Royal Cats of Siam. Interestingly, amongst the other classes exhibited were "Domestic Cats crossed with Wild Cats"
Pictured left is an illustration from a copy of The Illustrated London News which covered the 1871 show. The legend for the illustration of prize-winning exhibits reads:- Top left-to-right: Persian rare colour Violet; Hybrid Wildcats; Silver Tabby.
Further shows took place in 1873 in London and Birmingham. In 1875, the Crystal Palace show was staged again, and once again, there was a class for "Wild or Hybrid between Wild and Domestic Cats".
Cecil Boden-Kloss, (Director of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity in Singapore) wrote to "Cat Gossip" regarding hybrids between wild and domestic cats in Malaya: "I have never heard of hybrids between bengalensis (the Leopard Cat) and domestic cats. One of the wild tribes of the Malay Peninsula has domesticated cats, and I have seen the woman suckling bengalensis kittens, but I do not know whether the latter survive and breed with the others!"
A Belgian scientific journal published an article detailing the first recorded attempt to create a hybrid cross between a domestic cat and the Asian Leopard Cat
Cat Fancy publication documents the first attempts of creating and keeping a hybrid domestic cat/Leopard cat as a pet.
Jean Mill taking several graduate genetics classes at UC Davis. Her mid term paper was on the subject of 'hybridizing cats' - a proposal to cross Persian and Siamese to make 'Panda Bear' cats.
Jean Mill known as one of three breeders (unknown to one other) working to develop the Himalayan cat.
1950's - 1960's
There were attempts to breed the Oncilla (picured opposite) or Little Spotted Cat (F tigrina) with the Margay (F wiedii syn. Leopardus wiedii) by Dutch breeder Mme Falken-Rohrle in the 1950s. These appear to have been unsuccessful.
Until the early 1960’s, there are no records of anyone in the United States breeding Leopard Cat / domestic hybrids. This changed as Leopard Cats were imported into the United States in large numbers; primarily as objects of interest, known for their beautiful spotted coats and dreadful dispositions. Because of the Leopard Cats non-domestic temperament many Leopard Cat owners began to experiment with hybridization to secure a more suitable nature. Well known breeders of the Leopard Cat/domestic hybrids in the 1960’s were Robert Boudy, William Engler (a zoo keeper), Delores Newman and Ethel Hauser. These hybrids were primarily first generation cats (F1’s). The activities of these early hybridizers led to increased interest in Bengals as well as other hybrid crosses. During the 1960’s and 1970’s there was little concerted effort to actually create a breed of cat from these early Leopard Cat/domestic hybrids. However, there were a number of cat clubs formed to promote hybrid cat breeding. These clubs were especially interested in the hybrid cats that had already become known as "Bengals". The naming of these hybrids as "Bengals" has been attributed to William Engler (now deceased). William Engler was a member of the Long Island Ocelot Club and a breeder of first generation Bengals for many years in the 1960’s. The name, Bengal, was probably derived from the Leopard Cats scientific name, Prionailurus Bengalensis.
1963 - 1965
Jean Mill - "My earliest experience with using wild cats was in 1963, when I bought my first leopard cat, which were available in pet shops at that time. I and my first husband owned a cattle feeding operation in Yuma, Ariz. Because the animal seemed lonely in my large cage, I put a black tomcat in with my leopard cat to keep her company. Although experts said it couldn't happen, the animals mated and produced a curious little hybrid female named 'Kin Kin (pictured opposite)'. Then the experts at Cornell University guessed that the kitten would be sterile, but it, in turn, produced a second-generation litter. When my husband died in 1965, I had to move from the ranch into an apartment in Claremont, California, and had to give up my fascinating hobby"
1963 - 1965
The Zoological Society of London's 'International Zoo Yearbook' (1965) reported that five hybrid kittens were born at Tallinn Zoological Park, Estonia (formerly USSR) in 1963 to a male F bengalensis (Asian Leopard Cat) and female domestic Cat.
1968 - 1970
The Zoological Society of London's 'International Zoo Yearbook' (1970) reported two male hybrids were born at Kaunas, Lithuania (formerly USSR) in 1968 to an Amur leopard Cat (F bengalensis euptilura) and a Jungle Cat (F Chaus), - another species that hybridises freely with domestic cats.
Asian Leopard Cats used in Centerwall StudiesIn the early 1970’s, several other Bengal breed lines appeared. These included lines from Ken Hatfield, Judy Frank, Eleanor Schroen, Gordon Meredith and Mary Gepford (the latter two were responsible for the breeding in the Centerwall experiments).
The Centerwall experiments - During the early 1960's, there was an epidemic of feline leukemia. Around this time, it was discovered that many wild cats had a natural immunity to feline leukemia, as well as other illnesses such as FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) and feline AIDS. The asian leopard cat was one such cat, and Loyola University started a research program to see if the trait that allowed immunity to such conditions could be bred in or replicated. Dr Willard Centerwall, a professor, was researching the partial immunity ALC's have to feline leukemia, and in his research, done in the late 1970's, he was using the blood taken from ALC/Domestic crosses. The breedings in the Centerwall experiments were done by Gordon Meredith, and Mary Gepford. These F1's (first generation removed from ALC) had no use other than having their blood drawn for testing so homes were needed for them
None of these breeders produced hybrids beyond the second generation (F2) hybrid. During the 1960’s and 1970’s there was little concerted effort to actually create a breed of cat from these early Leopard Cat/domestic hybrids. However, there were a number of cat clubs formed to promote hybrid cat breeding. These clubs were especially interested in the hybrid cats that had already become known as "Bengals". The naming of these hybrids as "Bengals" has been attributed to William Engler (now deceased). William Engler was a member of the Long Island Ocelot Club and a breeder of first generation Bengals for many years in the 1960’s. The name, Bengal, was probably derived from the Leopard Cats scientific name, Prionailurus Bengalensis.
Three Bengal Clubs of this time period, which also published newsletters with many articles about Bengals, are no longer in existence. One California Bengal Club (formed by Margaret Lenox in 1970) published a newsletter edited by John and Juleen Jackson entitled: Alliance to Conserve Exotic Cats.
1975 / 1980 **
Jean Sugden remarried, becoming Jean Mill, and again thought about creating a spotted breed. Jean wanted to provide an acceptable spotted feline for cat lovers, one who would make a good pet but retain the beauty of the leopard cat. She thought this might dissuade people from wearing fur coats that resembled beloved pets:
"..I deliberately crossed leopard cats with domestic cats for several important reasons. At that time, wild cats were being exploited for the fur market. Nursing female leopard cats defending their nests were shot for their pelts, and the cubs were shipped off to pet stores worldwide. Unsuspecting cat lovers bought them, unaware of the danger, their unpleasant elimination habits and the unsuitability of keeping wild cats as pets.
Most of the wild kittens from this era ended up in zoos or escaped onto city streets. I hoped that by putting a leopard coat on a domestic cat, the pet trade could be safely satisfied. If fashionable women could be dissuaded from wearing furs that look like friends' pets, the diminished demand would result in less poaching of wild species."
Later in 1980**, Jean Sudgen, now Mrs. Jean Mill, acquired 4** female hybrids from Dr. Willard Centerwall who had been involved in a breeding program where Asian Leopard Cats were crossed with domestic cats as part of a study of feline Leukaemia.
** Discrepancy. Numerous websites refer to Jean Mill obtaining 8 ALC hybrids from Dr Centerwall in 1975.
On Jean Mill's website she states "In 1980..,Bob Mill agreed to restarting my project in our tree-filled back yard,... In trying to obtain another ALC, I contacted Capt. Zobel of the Calif. Fish and Game, who referred me to Dr. Willard Centerwall in Riverside. Bill was enthusiastic about sharing some F1 kittens he had produced using domestic tabbys at Loma Linda University for his studies into Feline Leukemia. Once the F1s had donated blood samples for his research, he needed homes for them. He gave me (1)Liquid Amber (3/4 ALC), (2)Favie (for Favorite), (3)Shy Sister, and (4)Doughnuts, all his family's pets.
Jean goes onto explain how she obtained another five hybrids from the Centerwall project:
"Gordon Meridith had obtained some of Bill's stock earlier for his little zoo in the Mojave desert, but in 1980, was in the hospital, struck down with cancer. He asked Bill to place his cats for him. Bill and I 'rescued' five of Bill's original hybrids (now adult), which I named (5)Praline, (6)Pennybank, (7)Rorschach (greyish charcoal), (8)Raisin Sunday (she was partially leopard spotted but with large white-spotting blazes on face, legs, and lower half), and (9)Wine Vinegar (who ate her only litter). Gordon had bred them to an Abysinnian tom.."
Jean Mill began again to further the new breed. As only female hybrids are fertile for the first few generations, so the males could not be used to start her breeding program.) She then set out to find appropriate male companionship for her hybrids.
After a long search, Mill selected two males: a sweet-tempered brown spotted tabby shorthair who she acquired at a local shelter, and a shorthair with dark brown rosettes and an orange ground color who came all the way from India: (see 1980/82 below)
The Long Island Ocelot Club, which was a group of exotic cat enthusiasts that included some 80 members of the C.F.A. board, also had a hybridizers group called: Walk on the Wild Side. They published articles and papers (1977 – 1980) concerning both Bengals and Safari cats. Another Bengal Club, with members in all areas of the United States, was the "Bengal-seen Luchsals Fanciers" which was organized by Sylvia Miroir in 1977. These later Bengal fanciers actually bred some second and third generation Bengals which were registered with the American Cat Fanciers Association (A.C.F.A.) in 1977 as experimental and exhibited at several A.C.F.A. cat shows in the late 1970’s. The clippings show Bengaleen / Bengals being advertised alongside each other in 1978/79.
1980 / 82 **
Jean Mill-"..while in India, my husband and I found a domestic street cat whose colouring and pattern came close to the leopard look. Much red tape later, we succeeded in importing the kitten into United States, where I used him with the female hybrids. Millwood Tory of Delhi is found in virtually all Bengal pedigrees." From there, the breed was established.
** Exact year unknown - In an interview between Jean Mill and Claire Robson, Jean is quoted referring to the trip in 1980. On Jeans' website, the trip is dated to 1982
In the early 1980’s the Cat Fanciers Association (C.F.A.) allowed Bengals to be registered as domestic cats (probably due to pressure from the C.F.A board members who were also members of the Long Island Ocelot Club's hybridizers sub-group called: Walk on the Wild Side.
In the early 1980’s another line of Bengals emerged as Greg and Elizabeth Kent began developing their own line of Bengals using Asian Leopard Cats and C.F.A. registered Egyptian Mau’s as the outcross. Many of the present Bengals now shown were derived from foundation Bengals coming from their breeding program.
Jean Mill registers the first Bengal Cat with TICA as a new/experimental breed.
The C.F.A ban all cats with any feral blood in their ancestory, from the C.F.A registry. This is put down to either or both of the following reasons:
1) An unfortunate incident at a C.F.A. show, involving an F1 hybrid.
2) Jean Mill "I imported several more domestics from India to make beautiful Indian Mau babies while simultaneously nursing my hybrids. Rumors spread that I was putting wild blood into the Maus (as if I would call the precious few hybrids common Maus!!) and in 1985, antagonists convinced CFA not to accept the Bengals and to retract my domestic Indian line Mau registrations"
Bengal first shown in the TICA as a new/experimental breed class. Jean Mill brought Bengals to the public attention once again by showing spotted cats with a small percentage of feral blood which were attractive and manageable. As the new found popularity of the Bengal breed increased so did the number of breeders and owners, which led to the formation of the T.I.C.A. Bengal Breed Section.
The Bengal breed section adopted the first written breed standard in 1986,
Jean Mill creates the first 'Marble: "1987, another surprise! Cinders and Torchbearer had an astonishing new kind of kitten. She was a spectacular little female with an odd soft, cream-colored coat and weird pattern that looked like drizzled caramel. At the Incats show in Madison Square Garden, and all over the country, she was a sensation!! The judges were overcome by her beauty and my cages were inundated by people wanting a glimpse. Most liked her better than her spotted cousin, Jungle Echo. I hadn't intended to include anything except spots in my first standard, but 'by popular demand' the marbles were added, thanks to jewel-like Painted Desert and Emberglow"
The first Bengal Bulletin was published in Nov/Dec 1988.
The last fertile Bristols (Reputably bred in the 1980's as Domestic x Margay (pictured opposite) ) ;were absorbed into the early Bengal breed to augment the Bengal's limited gene pool (due to inbreeding). In 1991,Solveig Pflueger, TICA's geneticist, heard of some cats housed at a private residence in Texas. These were registered with TICA as "Bristol Cats" - a breed believed to be extinct through infertility. The colony numbered about 10 cats and its sire was Cajun (then quite old); it was not very fertile, averaging 2 litters per year. Cajun's rosettes resembled those of an ocelot or margay and he was believed to be an ocelot, margay or oncilla (tiger cat) hybrid.
Breed books and articles of the 1980s reported the Bristol as a margay hybrid. Cajun had a very white ground colour on his chest and belly, very small and rounded ears, and a voice like that of an ocelot. Though less striking, the other cats were also clearly hybrids. Some had the black smoky charcoal colour that sometimes appears in F1 and F2 Bengals. Investigation unearthed photos of an ocelot-type cat mating with a domestic shorthair. The two Bristol females young enough to be used in breeding were placed in Bengal breeding programmes (one with Gogees, one [Sugarfoot] with Belltown). Belltown Sugarfoot produced several Bengal/Bristol litters and one of the kittens was incorporated into the Gogees line. The cats bearing Bristol blood inherited a more robust type, small ears and good rosetting. The problem of infertility was bred out and the Bengal gene pool was enhanced. Several Bengal breeders have lines that go back to Bristol/Bengal crosses,
The fourth generation, SBT (studbook) generation moved into Championship status with TICA and are a Category I (Established Breed).
In May of 1994 the lynx, mink and sepia spotted tabbies along with the marbles joined the brown spotted tabbies in championship classes. Only Bengals with a three-generation pedigree of Bengal-to-Bengal breeding (SBT) are eligible to compete for championship titles
Silver color accepted for Championship status with TICA.