Bengal cats are a breed of feline with a striking appearance: they resemble small, playful leopards.
Bengal cats originated from the cross-breeding of Asian leopard cats (Prionailurus Bengalensis or Felis Bengalensis) and domestic felines (Egyptian Mau or domestic short hair). The aim was to produce a domesticated cat that resembled a leopard as closely as possible. Breeders hoped to take some of the pressure off wild cats, who were being caught and converted to domestic pets. They also hoped to preserve some of the natural beauty of wild leopard cats, since fears of extinction were high at the time.
There are records of cross-breeding attempts dating back to 1871, but the first detailed record in modern times occurred in 1963 by Jean Mill, in California. Serious breeding first took place in the USA in the 1960's and 1970's. Mixing Asian leopard cats with domestic felines is one of the dicier hobbies available. Extensive work was necessary to successfully breed the two. It wasn't until 1985 that Bengals appeared in cat shows, where they were enthusiastically received. The breed were exported to Great Britain in the early 1990's; they are now available all over the world.
Depending on the cat's lineage, there are many different "flavours" of Bengal:
- Traditionally, Bengals are beige or tan with dark markings; white or snow Bengals with black or red markings are becoming more common.
- The most prevalent marking is the Spotted pattern, which produces rosettas (the same spot that appears on a leopard). Marbled Bengals have long swirls of colour, somewhat similar to a tiger. Both patterns are very striking and easy to recognise.
- Eye colour varies from cat to cat. For beige cats, the standard is gold or green, similarly to a leopard cat. The eyes of white cats range from blue to green, copper or gold.
- Once every litter or two, a kitten is born with the "glittering" effect. This causes the cat's coat to shimmer and sparkle in the light like a hair-care advertisement. This creates a golden gleam on beige or tan cats; on white cats, the effect is likened to "pearldust".
- Some permutations of the Bengal's coat are considered "undesirable" - this includes blue, dark brown, red, cinnamon and silver. This doesn't affect the cat in any way, it simply means that they can't be shown in competitions. These cats are every bit as lovely as regular Bengals.
From the age of eight weeks to five months, Bengal kittens will lose all of their markings. Don't be alarmed when this happens; the stripes and spots come back stronger than before.
Bengals display all the intelligence of a leopard cat and the pleasance of a Tonkinese. They are active, playful and extremely smart; they are curious and inquisitive. Bengals rate highly in animal "intelligence" tests, and can solve simple puzzles (i.e. opening your refrigerator or finding the dry cat food). As with all cats, it's important to play with them from a young age, and give them plenty of activity. Bengals love games, including fetch. Many Bengal owners have reported that their cats will go for walks on a leash.
Bengals are loving and friendly cats; they grow very attached to their owners and love to be around people. Many Bengals like to sleep in the same bed as their owners. They also love water; Bengals will play with a running tap, sit under the shower or splash in the kitchen sink.
These cats love to be indoors and outdoors; they need a chance to play and explore, but they also need plenty of love. There are two important things to consider when deciding if you want your Bengal to be an outdoor cat. Firstly, consider that they are strikingly beautiful, and tend to get "adopted" by local thieves fairly regularly. Secondly, given their wild heritage, if you live in an area with a lot of bird-life, consider putting a bell on your cat's collar.
Associations and Breeders
The most prominent association is The International Bengal Cat Society (TIBCS), which is located in England. TIBCS maintains an international Bengal breeder directory. If you're looking for a local breeder, this is an excellent resource.
The Authentic Bengal Cat League (based in New Jersey, USA) and The Bengal Cat Club of Great Britain provide support and information for owners, breeders and shows. Tijah Bengals was the first cattery in Australia to import Bengals and display them at shows.
Thanks to The International Bengal Cat Society, Tijah Bengals and small, fluffy animals for factual information.