The Bengal cat is a beautiful and unique breed of domestic cat that has become increasingly popular in recent years. With its striking coat pattern, muscular build, and playful personality, the Bengal cat is an attractive choice for many pet owners. But where did this fascinating breed come from, and what is its history? In this article, we will explore the Bengal cat origin and history.
A Brief Overview of Bengal Cat Origin And History
Unlike many other famous feline breeds (whose history is centuries old), the Bengal cats are relatively new in the feline world, and their history can be traced back to the late 1800s. A wild cat named “Ocelot” was presented in a cat show (held at Edinburg, Scotland, in 1875). This cat (due to its wild look) was praised so much that it won the “wild or hybrid between wild and domestic cat” class in that cat show.
At this time, Cat enthusiasts were drawn to feral cats and their hybrids, especially those with spots. However, the first recorded crossbreeding between a domestic cat and an Asian Leopard Cat occurred in 1889, documented in Harrison Weir’s book, Our Cats and All About Them. This crossbreeding laid the cornerstone of the Bengal cat breed’s development, with several other recorded cross-breedings occurring during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Though many breeders continued hybridization efforts (crossings between the domestic feline and the Asian Leopard Cat) in Belgium during the 1930s and in Japan in the 1940s, there is no evidence to suggest that these efforts contributed to the development of the Bengal cat breed that we know today.
Actual Journey of Bengal Cat’s Development
The development of the Bengal cat began in 1960 at Loma Linda University Medical Center. Prof. Dr. Willard Centerwall (a cat enthusiast with a keen interest in feline genetics) was surprised to observe that Asian Leopard cats were resistant to the feline leukemia virus (FLV). Since human leukemia and feline leukemia have a lot of similarities, Dr. Willard Centerwall launched a research project to understand the Asian Leopard cat’s immune or resistance mechanism against leukemia and whether this trait could be passed on to hybrid offspring.
Dr. Willard Centerwall was hopeful that understanding this immune mechanism of Asian Leopard cats would be helpful to transfer immunity (against leukemia) through hybridization to humans with compromised immune systems. Although Dr. Willard Centerwall failed to achieve the desired results (passing on the resistance to hybrid offspring), the project paved the way for developing the Bengal breed.
During the 1970s, a zoo keeper named Bill Engler crossed his two female domestic cats with a wild Asian Leopard male cat to use hybrids to save the rapidly decreasing small wildcat populations. Though it is believed that the Bengal cats were named after the Asian Leopard cat’s scientific name, felis bengalesis, many people claim that the name “Bengal cats” was given by Bill Engler to the hybrid kittens of domestic and Asian Leopard cats, perhaps after his initials, B. Engle. Whatever the case, Bill Engler’s quest ended when he died in 1977, and his cats did not contribute to the development of the Bengal cat breed.
The Bengal Cat breed’s real development began in the 1980s when Dr. Willard Centerwall handed over his leftover hybrids to Jean Mill. Jean Mill was already working on developing a cat with the wild and exotic appearance of Asian Leopard cats but with the temperament and personality of a domestic cat. After years of continuous efforts and crossing the hybrids (that she received from Dr. Willard Centerwall) with her own Asian Leopard cat, Kabuki, and a domestic street cat from India named Millwood Tory of Delhi, she eventually succeeded in achieving the desired results.
Given the popularity of hybrid cats with a wild appearance, many breeders had started working on the same idea; Jean Mill worked to get the breed accepted as a registered breed through TICA (The International Cat Association) and began to show them around the world after the accreditation from TICA, the Bengal Cats was also accepted by most registries (like The Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF), Federation International Feline (FIFe), The Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA), The Australian Cat Federation (ACF), etc.) till the late 1990s.
In conclusion, the Bengal cat is a fascinating feline with a unique history and origin. Since its inception in the 1960s as a crossbreed between a domestic cat and an Asian leopard cat, the Bengal cat has gained immense popularity and a devoted fan base. Their wild ancestry is evident in their striking coat patterns and energetic and playful personalities. Despite being a relatively new breed, the Bengal cat has already left a mark on the cat world and continues to captivate cat lovers worldwide. Understanding the Bengal cat origin and history gives us a deeper appreciation for these beautiful creatures and the journey that led to their creation.