The Bengal attracted a great deal of publicity in the 1990s, partly because it ranks as one of the most expensive pedigree breeds. One reason for its popularity is its striking markings, which are emphasised by very smooth, sleek fur. What really sets the Bengal apart from other domestic cats, however, is its ancestry, since it has been evolved from crosses with the Asian Leopard Cat, with the intention of introducing striking ‘wild cat’ markings.
- BREED DEVELOPED: 1950s
- COUNTRY: USA
- TYPE: Shorthair
- WEIGHS UP TO: 6.5kg / 14lb
- PLUS POINTS: Distinctive patterning and intelligent nature
- WATCH POINTS: Bengals are a likely target for cat-nappers in view of their value
The breeding programme that marked the start of the Bengal lineage began in the 1950s, when geneticist Jean Mill decided to cross a male black cat with a female Leopard Cat that she had purchased in a pet shop. Jean Mill’s aim was to combine the markings of the Leopard Cat with the friendly temperament of domestic cats. A single kitten was bred from this pairing, and proved to be fertile. Following the death of her husband, Jean Mill abandoned her breeding project. However, 20 years later she resumed the programme after obtaining stock from a fellow geneticist, Dr Centerwall, who had been breeding such hybrids as part of a scientific investigation into the effects of the feline leukaemia virus. Both non-pedigree and pedigree cats were used in the subsequent breeding programme, including the Egyptian Mau, Ocicat, British Shorthair, Abyssinian and Bombay. The Bengal was first officially recognised in the USA in 1983.
The marbled form of the Bengal is a reflection of the classic tabby pattern, with the black coloration being randomly distributed, especially on the legs. It creates a distinctive marbling effect over the body and is highly individual, adding to the appeal of these cats. In contrast, small spots are clearly apparent on the underparts, with stripes extending down the back.
- The breed’s name comes from the scientific name of its Leopard Cat ancestor, Felis benegalensis.
- Unlike many cats, Bengals often have a fascination with water, and will plunge into a bath or pond if they have an opportunity. This is thought to be a reflection of their ancestry.