Where do bengal cats originate from

Where Do Bengal Cats Originate From?

  • November 11, 2023

The Bengal cats’ country of origin isn’t exactly an easy thing to explain. The short answer is the United States specifically created the name “Bengal” but there is a lot of interesting history behind the use of the name for the breed. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at this history and where our favorite felines came from. Here’s what we’ll be looking at:

  • How were they bred?
  • Why were they first bred?
  • Where were they bred and where do their ancestors come from?

How were they bred?

The breeding of the Bengal started with Dr. Willard Centerwall, a professor of pediatrics among other health related fields and scientifically interested in felines in his free time, contributed multiple Leopard Cat hybrids bred from two Asian Leopard Cat brothers, also known as an ALC, who became known as the Centerwall ALC’s. The doctor bred the Asian Leopard Cats to domestic levels to help his studies in immuno-compromised humans.

These hybrids were key in the development of the Bengal breed. Dr. Centerwall and Jean Mill met in 1980, she took on his F1 kittens.

In 1970, William Engler had two litters of, newly named, Bengals were fathered by his Leopard Cat Shah, totaling nine kittens. In April of 1971, the same queens were bred to Shah again, producing six more Bengal kittens. No kittens were produced by these Bengals but by 1975, Engler had now produced more than sixty Bengals and had bred them out more than two generations. He kept seven of these Bengals for breeding on his own and they represented the first, second, and further generation cats. Engler was significant in pioneering Bengals in the early years but none of today’s Bengals can be traced back to his lines. William Engler presented the cats under the name “Bengal” to the domestic registries and the breed’s name was official.

In 1975, Engler’s Bengals had reached the third generation when Engler passed away in 1977. After his death, his cats were cared for by friends in Florida.

In 1980, Jean Mill restarted her program from where she left off in 1963. Jean successfully got the Bengal cat recognized by The International Cat Association (TICA), in 1983. Jean was developing the breed, and continued it past the first generation hybrids. She pushed fellow breeders to breed these hybrids further generations down, register them with TICA, and establish the Bengal as a domestic breed.

But the look of the glittering coat of the Bengal that we all love wasn’t brought about until Millwood Tory was added in the early 1980’s to the Millwood Bengal breeding program. Tory, a domestic street cat, was imported from India because of his rich coloring. Tory was bred to add this into the breed, giving the breed the glittery coat that it is famous for.

Jean’s plan wasn’t for the Bengal to remain a hybrid, but a domestic cat. It was shown across oceans which brought a large amount of public attention. A significant amount of this attention was brought by showing Millwood Penny Ante, an F2 Bengal, who was a friendly and relaxed cat that looked like a little leopard. She was even used to advertise shows from the East Coast of the United States all the way to Europe.

It took a while but Jean spent hundreds and thousands of dollars to promote Bengal’s as a breed. She passed out brochures, attended shows across the world, and the Bengal breed benefited from these efforts. Jean, along with other breeders, showed their cats, started breeding programs, making the breed become more popular and publicized. Her efforts drove the Bengal cat to become a recognized domestic breed.

On a separate note, the Bengal’s name originated from the Bengal cat’s heritage, the scientific name for the Leopard cat’s, or felis bengalensis.

Why were they first bred?

The idea to breed together the hybrid we love came from previous endeavors in breeding wild cats with domestic cats. They continued to be bred in large part due to the fact that wild breeds and other hybrids were becoming few and far between. Bengals were used to fill in the gaps in hybrids for sale when more people wanted them than was available at the time.

Bengals Illustrated gives a detailed explanation of the complete history of the Bengal.

Where were they bred and where do their ancestors come from?

All of this breeding was done in the United States beginning in the ‘70s. However, there are documented cats, called the spotted British Shorthair, in 1871 that are said to be a hybrid crossing of a spotted Jungle cat and a domestic.

These spotted hybrids were also reported to be in cat shows in London in that same year. Then in 1934, details of a hybrid between a domestic cat and an Asian Leopard Cat cropped up in a Belgian scientific journal. What was known as a “pet leopard”, a cross between a domestic cat and a leopard cat, were reported in 1941 in Japan. Then in 1963, this same leopard/domestic hybrid was produced in Yuma, Arizona, USA by Jean Mill and acquired the attention of the genetic department at Cornell University.

As we’ve seen, the history that led to the modern-day Bengal was varied, scientific, and due heavily to breeders’ determination to make the breed popular and well known.

So, what do you think about the origin of the Bengal? Did you think Bengal’s were as new of a breed as they are? Comment below to let us know!

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