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Bengal cats and kittens a brief history

Date Added: February 09, 2008 11:40:58 AM

This abbrieviated Bengal Cat History article is reproduced from the education zone at Bengal Cat Classifieds
1871  According to an article, 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  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."

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"
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".
1927  Cecil Boden-Kloss, 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!"  

1934  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

1941  Cat Fancy publication documents the first attempts of creating and keeping a hybrid domestic cat/Leopard cat as a pet.
1946  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.

1948  Jean Mill known as one of 3 breeders (unknown to one other) working to develop the Himalayan cat.

1950's - 60's  There were attempts to breed the Oncilla 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. 

1960's 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 - 65  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'. 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 - 68 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. 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).

1970's  In the early 70’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.
3 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:

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.
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' (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.."five of Bill's original hybrids (now adult), which I named
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:
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. ** 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 1982Millwood Tory of Delhi is found in virtually all Bengal pedigrees." From there, the breed was established.

1980's  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.
1983  Jean Mill registers the first Bengal Cat with TICA as a new/experimental breed.

1985  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.

1987  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