About the Bengal cat About the Bengal cat

The Bengal derives its name from that of its wild ancestor - Felis Bengalensis (the Asian Leopard Cat). First bred in the U.S., this beautiful new breed of feline is the result of crossing an Asian Leopard Cat with a domestic cat, giving it the genetic make up of the former with the temperament of the latter. This gave breeders exactly what they were looking for, namely a pleasant and trustworthy nature coupled with a stunningly wild-looking physical appearance.

So how are these animals bred? By crossing a domestic cat (typically Abyssians, Ocicats or Egyptian Maus) with an Asian Leopard Cat over a number of generations. The first generation cross is called an F1. When an F1 and a domestic cat (usually a Bengal these days) mate, the progeny is called an F2. An F3 has one domestic parent and one F2 parent. Due to the fact that F3 and F2 males often have fertility problems and F1 males are usually sterile, the early stages of breeding programmes usually involve crossing male domestic cats with female Asian Leopard Cat hybrids. The fourth generation removed from the wild is considered an official Bengal (not a Leopard Cat hybrid) and a domestic animal. It is thanks to this lengthy breeding process that the animal inherits the social nature and adaptability to human lifestyles of a domestic cat, and the beautiful markings and unusual behaviour of a wild cat.

Whilst some argue whether F1 hybrid cats make acceptable pets, because they are a few generations removed from the wild, certain individual hybrids with good upbringings and social natures have proven to make great, if somewhat specialised companions. Even these, however, may only be suitable for experienced keepers who are capable of catering for and understanding the animal's needs. They are by no means appropriate pets for the common family! That being said, they are not dangerous at all, typically being shy, nocturnal animals that prefer the outdoors to a hectic household. From the fourth generation onwards, they become well socialised and fully able to cope with a frantic home environment. Strangely, they get along fantastically with dogs, which they consider playmates.

The Asian Leopardcat consists of approximately ten sub-species that vary according to body colour. Cats from more humid regions appear more ochre-yellow to brownish compared to cats in the Northern regions, with their distinct reddish brown spotting on a yellowish-grey background. These striking markings (that show variation in individuals) have even caught the attention of the fur trade. All subspecies have a ringed or spotted tail, complete with black tip and four black bands running from the back of the neck to the forehead, breaking into oblong spots on the shoulders and neck, that form the aptly titled "broken necklace". All cats possess white underside, throat and cheek-flashes and "ocelli", a white spot found on the back of their round, black ears. Body markings can either be solid or rosetted, sometimes even displaying marbling and underparts appear spotted on the white background.

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Originating from a wild animal, the Bengal definitely possesses the robust physique of its ancestors. The head is broad, rounded and slightly longer than it is wide. The eyes are ovular, almost round, appearing large (but not bold) and set on a slight slant toward the bottom of the ear. The nose is broad with a puffed nose leather. The ears are angled forward in profile, and should ideally be small to medium with rounded tips and a wide base. The muzzle looks full and broad with a faintly coloured, rounded chin and pronounced whisker pads produced by wide set canine teeth. The overall appearance can be summed up in one word , nocturnal. The body is large, sleek and rather muscular with the hind-quarters raised slightly higher than the shoulders. The thick tail is carried low. It is an intensely affectionate and alert animal with its wild look enhanced by a distinctive marbled or spotted coat that is luxuriously full. There are Snow Spotted, Snow Marbled, Black or Brown Spotted and Black or Brown Marbled Bengals. The spotted variety should exhibit larger spots and a sharper contrast of colour in comparison with other spotted breeds. The spotting pattern often incorporates rosettes and tends to flow horizontally. Another differentiator is the cat's dark, wide necklet(s) on its throat. Lightly coloured spectacles should preferably go into vertical streaks, outlined by an "M" forehead marking. Spots or streaks that appear broken extend over the head either side of a complex scarab mark. Combine this with a pronounced chin strap that moves from jaw to jaw and you have one distinctive feline.

Unique to Marbled Bengals is a pattern of arbitrary horizontally aligned swirls. No other cat possesses the pearl/gold dusting effect of the Bengal (commonly referred to as "glitter"). The texture of the coat is also unique, with a feeling reminiscent of silk or satin. It has even been said that one can identify a Bengal blindfolded! As the breed has evolved, breeders have recently been able to produce increasingly distinctive rosetted patterns. Along with completely white undersides, this rosetting enhances a breed's uniqueness. The Bengal even differs from other cats in terms of its voice, sounding like a chirping or cooing sound, even gravely. Equipped with a large vocabulary, they are a very vocal breed of cat that become quite strident in unfamiliar situations. Not to be confused with aggression, it is simply a form of individual expression. Unlike the majority of other cats out there, the Bengal loves to play in and with water and interacts astonishingly well with other household animals.

What sets the Bengal apart from the other species of cat, besides its obvious physical aspects, is its nature. Being athletic and intelligent, they approach their environment as if it were a playground or obstacle course. It is this unique outlook that makes them ideal companions for children - it's not uncommon to see a child and their adoring Bengal exploring the world together. It is basically a loving and trustworthy miniature leopard, constantly on the prowl for the next bit of fun.

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