The Asian Leopard Cat

You have possibly read stories of famous people with exotic pets such as leopards or cheetahs. 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 declining numbers and the unsuitability of keeping wild cats as pets. People have tried to domesticate the wild cat, to tame part of that wild spirit. Most of the wild kittens from this era ended up in zoos or escaped onto city streets. It was 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.

In 1963 Jean Mills, pioneer of the Domesticated Bengal Cat did just that. Asian Leopard Cats were crossed with Domestic cats intentionally to get the Bengal we see today. Today Bengals are about the size of American Shorthairs. They are known for their beautifully spotted or marbled coats with high contrast between the pattern and background colors. Their colors come from the wild–black, brown or rust on bright shades of tan, gold or mahogany. Like its wild counterpart, an ivory version of the Bengal is called a snow leopard. The preferred pattern is leopard spots, not tabby stripes, on legs and ribs. Ivory-to-white undersides and small, rounded ears also are desirable.

Temperament is of primary concern, both to breeders and to pet buyers. Modern-day, carefully bred kittens have loving, outgoing personalities. The instinctive suspicion of the wild cat has been bred out through careful selection. The two main things breeders look for are sweet temperament and beautiful, wild appearance.

Well-bred Bengals are affectionate, purr enthusiastically and are exceedingly intelligent, a trait probably inherited from the wild cat’s natural selection for jungle survival. They use the litter box, like to climb and run, and are quick and curious about everything. Bengal owners report that their cats retrieve, learn parlor tricks and love water, sometimes coming right into the tub to play with human toes.

Even as adults, Bengals are entertaining and playful, but as in other breeds of domestic cats, they vary greatly in appearance and behavior. For example, most Abyssinians are loving and calm, but a few are independent and aloof. Some Abys are born with the perfect agouti coat, while others show tabby markings. So it is with Bengals. In general, skittish, fearful kittens seldom become affectionate pets, but they may bond to certain family members.

Bengal kittens often go through an ugly stage of grayness between 2 and 6 months of age in which the clearly contrasted markings are spoiled and blurry. This muting is probably nature’s way of protecting the young; baby cheetahs go through a similar fuzzy stage. Then, depending on the seasons, the gray ticked coat falls out and the rufous coloration returns, unless, of course, the kitten was gray (tawny) at birth. All Bengals must have a black tail tip, regardless of body color. Blue, red and dilute colors are not recognized Bengal colors, although Bengals with Ocicat blood often produce them.

Two extra beautiful coat types of the Bengal are the snow leopard and the marbled. Much like its wild cousin, the real snow leopard, the Bengal color/pattern is ivory with subtle, dark markings of equal intensity all over the cat. The marbled has no counterpart in the wild, and in captivity no two marbled Bengals are alike. The pattern may be sharply defined patches of color; reminiscent of a stained glass windows, or flowing, twisting streams of clear color. Both of these patterns are breathtaking and exciting because they have never before been seen on domestic cats.


Note to reader: The above information has been referenced from Jean Mills article "The Bengal" in the Feb 1991 issue of Cat Fancy.