Where did the Bengal Cat come from?

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.