History of the Bengal cat
The ancestor of the Bengal cat we know today is the wild Asian leopard cat. Bengals take their name from the Asian leopard cat’s scientific name, Felis bengalensis. They were created through crosses between an Asian leopard cat and domestic shorthairs.
(Asian leopard cat in the wild)
Jean Mill, a breeder in California, was the first to make such a cross, but not because she wanted to create a new breed. She had acquired a leopard cat and allowed her to keep company with a black tom cat so she wouldn’t be lonely. To her surprise, since she hadn’t thought the two species would mate, kittens resulted, and Mill kept a spotted female. Breeding her back to her father produced a litter of spotted and solid kittens.
At about the same time, Dr. Willard Centerwall was crossing Asian leopard cats with domestic cats at Loyola University. The leopard cats were resistant to the feline leukemia virus, so researchers were interested in finding out if the trait could be passed on to hybrid offspring.
Various breeders became interested in developing the cats as a breed. Mill was one of them. Changes in her life had caused her to give up cat breeding, but she was ready to begin again. In 1980 she happily took the left over hybrids from Dr. Centerwall's project and created the cats that originated what we now know to be the Bengal breed.
Jean was able to acquire her own Asian Leopard cat, Kabuki, and, in order to move the generation down the line, she brought in a domestic street cat from India Millwood Tory of Delhi. There were others, such as Doctors Greg and Elizabeth Kent, who were crossing their Egyptian Maus to there Asian Leopard cat Baghara Kahn. While many breeders worked together to get the breed off the ground, it was Jean Mill who worked to get them accepted as a registered breed through TICA and began to show them around the world.
Bengals today are considered to be one and the same with domestic cats, and any Bengal purchased should be at least four generations removed from any ancestors with wild bloodlines. The first cat association to recognize the Bengal was The International Cat Association, which granted the breed experimental status in 1983, followed by full recognition in 1991.
(The Centerwall Asian Leopard Cats who are behind the original hybrid of the Bengal breed)
(The founding hybrids Millwood Pennybank Millwood Rorschach Millwood Praline)