So, let’s talk about the origin of one of the coolest cats on the block – the Bengal cat. Have you seen one? They’ve got this wild leopard-like vibe going on with their spots and patterns, but they are as domesticated as any other house cat. It’s like having a piece of the wild jungle right in your living room, and trust me, they’re every bit as fun and fascinating as they look.
The Bengal cat isn’t just some random cat breed. With its unique look and outstanding features, it’s up there as one of the most unique and sought-after cats in the entire world. If you are a cat lover, chances are you want to own one. But with that popularity comes a price tag.
Yup, they’re on the pricier side, and some of them cost a fortune. And if you’re thinking of getting one, be ready for a bit of a challenge. It’s not a walk in the park, but man, is it worth it!
I’ve got to be honest; I’m kind of obsessed with them (browse through this site, and you’ll see what I am talking about). There’s just something about their look and personality that gets me. And if you are like me, curious about where they came from and how they became this amazing blend of wild and domestic, you have come to the right place.
Today, we’re diving deep into the origin and history of the Bengal cat. And trust me, it’s a story worth telling.
Is Bengal cat an original or mixed breed?
The one-liner is Bengal cat is a mixed breed. A mix between the Asian Leopard and domestic cats created this amazing breed. However, they haven’t come easy. It took literally hundreds of years to create the perfectly beautiful and graceful cat breed we see and adore today.
Fascinated by the beauty and grace of the wild Asian Leopard cat, quite a few enthusiasts and breeders attempted to create a domesticated version of it. What is the best way to do that? – Mixing them with an already domesticated cat breed. After a few experiments, trials, and errors, someone succeeds.
Let’s dive deeper into the origin and history of this breed. But first, let’s learn where the name Bengal cat originated.
The origin of the Name Bengal cat and the origin of their primary ancestors
Bengal is actually a region in South Asia, and the Bengal cat breed has a tie with the region. The variant of Asian Leopard cats (one-tenth in size of an African Leopard) found in the region of Bengal is actually called Bon Biral in the Bengali language, which actually means Wild/Jungle cat. In the Bengali language, Bon means jungle/wild, and Biral means cat.
Apart from Bengal, the Asian Leopard cat dwells in the woods and bushes in many places of the Asian continent, in countries such as China, Korea, India, Philippines, Taiwan, and Indonesia. The Chinese have an interesting name for the Asian Leopard: The Money cat, as spots on their fur kind of look like Chinese coins!
The name was also driven from the Latin name of their primary ancestor. As mentioned before, the ancestor of today’s Bengal cats were the Asian Leopard cats, and in Latin, they were called Felis bengalensi, which is also the Asian Leopard’s scientific name proposed by the Scottish Writer and Scientist Dr. Robert Kerr in 1792. When breeders finally succeeded in bringing about the domesticated version, they couldn’t help but name the new breed after their ancestors.
Apart from the name, the Bengal cat inherited some of their fascinating features from their primary ancestors, the most notable of which is their looks. Bengal cats got their fantastic markings from Asian Leopards. Every variant of Bengals has a spotted coat with a black tail tip. All have four black bands from the back of the neck to the forehead. Sadly, their unique and beautiful features have been marked by fur traders, and it greatly endangers them.
The first-known attempt of breeding
Let’s move on to one of the most interesting parts of the origin story of this extraordinary cat breed: the history of breeding. The first known attempt to create a domesticated version of the Asian Leopard dates back to the late 19th century, 1889 to be precise.
Harrison Weir, an English artist, author, and known cat enthusiast, did the first cross between a domestic cat and an Asian Leopard. He mentioned it in his book Our Cats and All About Them, which is the first Pedigree Cat Book ever written.
Weir also arranged the world’s first cat show back in 1871 at London’s Crystal Palace! Weir’s crossbreed can be called the first ever Bengal cat; however, the name was coined way after that. Curious? Let’s keep going forward and find out.
Further breeding attempts and the birth of the modern Bengal cat breed
After Weir, two more attempts were made to create a hybrid between the wild Asian leopard and domestic cats. The first one was made in Belgium in 1924, and the second one in 1941, which were mentioned in the respective country’s scientific journals. However, the breeds didn’t go further than two generations and were considered failures.
The title of the first successful breeder of Bengal cats is credited to Jean Mill, an American cat enthusiast who wanted to create a domestic cat breed that looks like a leopard. In 1963, she started breeding Asian Leopard cat hybrids. Her first attempt was to cross a female Asian Leopard with a male black tomcat. After the initial success, mill went on crossing the Asian Leopards with Burmese, Egyptian Maus, Ocicats, and Abyssinians.
For nearly two decades, from the early 1960s and into the 1980s, Mrs. Mill attempted to crossbreed domestic cats with Asian Leopard Cats, but it was a rocky road. Jean Mill was determined, but the breeding success was kind of touch and go for a while.
Fast forward to 1980, and things took an interesting turn for Mill. A bit of luck came her way in the form of some Bengal cats that had been used for genetic tests at Loyola University back in 1975. You might be wondering, Why were they testing these cats?
Here’s the cool science-y part. Dr Williard Centerwall, a big brain over at Loyola, was deep into research on the immunity of Asian Leopard cats, particularly their resistance to feline leukemia virus (FeLV). He was hoping his cat studies would offer insights into humans with compromised immune systems.
In his own words, he was looking at how domestic cats naturally carry this Type C feline leukemia virus in their DNA, but the Asian Leopard cat doesn’t. This got many people in the medical field super curious about what would happen when you cross the two.
There was a myth that Bengal cats, because of their wild ancestors, can’t get FeLV. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. That immunity didn’t make it down the family tree.
When Centerwall offered up his hybrid cats to Mill, she was picky. She took only the cream of the crop – the ones with a super chill temperament and the spotty patterns she was aiming for. She then continued her mission, breeding these hybrids with more domestic cats to gradually dilute that wild Asian Leopard cat vibe.
Here’s a quick genetics 101
When you cross an Asian Leopard cat with a domestic cat, their offspring are called F1. If you then cross that F1 with another domestic cat, you get F2s, and so on. The first three generations are dubbed the foundation cats. But here’s the kicker: early generation males, especially the F1s and F2s, usually can’t have kids of their own.
It’s the female hybrids that are often paired up with domestic male cats. Occasionally, an F2 male might surprise us, but it’s rare. The closer these cats are to their wild ancestors, the trickier they can be as pets. But by the fourth generation, the first proper domestic Bengal cat was born.
Besides Jean Mill, there was another big player in the Bengal cat game: William Engler. Mr. Engler had a personal Asian Leopard Cat named Shah – cool, right? Well, in 1970, Shah fathered two litters of Bengal kittens. Engler got to work and, by 1975, had brought over sixty Bengals into the world, with more than two generations coming from his breeding efforts.
The bummer is that none of today’s Bengals can trace their genes back to Engler’s cats. But give credit where it’s due: he was a trailblazer for the breed. Plus, here’s a fun fact: Engler’s the guy who coined the name Bengal for these cats. Sadly, he passed away in 1977. By the early 80s, Jean Mill surpassed him and became the Bengal cat queen.
Registration and Recognition
Now, Mill had a mission: She didn’t want the Bengals to be seen as some fancy hybrid. She wanted them recognized as their own domestic breed. And guess what? She nailed it. In 1983, The International Cat Association (TICA) gave the Bengal breed a thumbs up.
It took a while, but in 1997, The Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) jumped on board too. But there was a catch. A Bengal cat had to be at least four generations (F4) removed from their wild Asian Leopard Cat roots to get registered.
Post-recognition, Mill wasn’t about to slow down. She strutted her Bengal cats on the global stage, turning heads left and right. One standout was Millwood Penny Ante-an F2 Bengal hybrid that looked wild but was a total sweetheart. Mill didn’t hold back, spending big bucks to spread the Bengal love far and wide. And thanks to her hustle, the Bengal breed became a global sensation.
By the 2000s, Bengal cats became one of the most popular breeds in the world. As of 2023, there are 500,000-1,200,000 Bengal cats in the world. If you look at their multiplication rate, you’d know they are not going anywhere anytime soon.
Rewind: Bengal cat origin history at a glance
- 1889: British Artist and Author Harrison Weir Made the first-known cross between an Asian Leopard and a domestic cat.
- 1924: Second attempt to cross between Asian Leopard and domestic cat in Belgium.
- 1941: Third attempt made in Japan. Like the first two, this didn’t continue for more than two generations.
- 1963: Jean Mill from California made a cross between a wild Asian Leopard and a black tomcat.
- 1970: William Engler’s pet Asian Leopard “Shah” fathered two litters of Bengal kittens.
- 1975: Engler had over 60 Bengal Cats.
- 1980s: Jean Mill surpassed Engler and became the biggest breeder of Bengal Cats.
- 1983: The International Cat Association (TICA) recognized the Bengal Cat as a cat breed rather than a hybrid.
- 1997: The Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) recognized Bengal Cats.
- 2000: The Bengal cat became one of the most popular domestic cat breeds.
- 2023: 500,000 to 1,200,000 Bengal Cats living in the world!
The origin and history of Bengal Cats is no less extraordinary than the beautiful breed itself. Isn’t it wild how the story of the Bengal cat unfolds? From wild roots to show-stopping beauties, these feline wonders have carved out a special place in our hearts. Their mesmerizing patterns and lovable personalities make our world just a tad brighter and undeniably more beautiful.
As one of the most cherished breeds out there, Bengals remind us of the marvels of nature and the bonds we share with our four-legged friends. So, here’s to the Bengal cats: let’s cherish every purr, playful pounce, and a hint of wildness emerging occasionally.
Let’s hope they continue to grace our lives with their presence, and may we be fortunate enough to have them with us always. Cheers to the Bengals, making our world a more magical place, one whisker at a time.