Last updated:
18 Oct 2013

Carol and Andrew Hebden

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What is a Bengal Cat

The Bengal cat is ultimately the result of mating an Asian Leopard Cat (ALC) to a domestic cat.

The first hybrid generation (F1) is a cat with a mother or father who is an ALC. The second generation (F2) is a cat with a grandparent who is an ALC. The third generation (F3) is a cat with a great grandparent who is an ALC.

And at the fourth generation - you get a Bengal that is recognised by TICA as being a domestic cat.

The History of the Bengal

Jean Sugden - later to become Jean Mill - is the name always associated with the creation of the Bengal, and she is known as the Mother of the Bengal.

She has now retired from her Millwood cattery in California.

Although Jean wasn’t the only person involved in the very early days, her story is documented, and you can read the full details on her website, and see photographs of the first Bengals.

Here is a summary of her story:

In 1961 Jean bred a female ALC called Malaysia to a black tom cat. The male kitten was fatally mauled, but the female, KinKin was rescued and put with a newborn Himlayan litter of Jeans.

KinKin was bred back to her father, as Jean didn’t have another suitable tom cat, and KinKin produced a sweet natured son and a nasty tempered black daughter (Pantherette). Unfortunately the son died from a fall. Pantherette went on to produce a single kitten, but then ate it at 2 days of age.

When Jean’s husband Bob Sugden died, Jean gave Malaysia, KinKin and Pantherette to San Diego Zoo - where KinKin and Pantherette later died of pneumonitus. There ended Jean’s early project.

Then in the late 1970s and early 1980s Dr Willard Centerwall was doing research into Feline Leukemia at Loma University, and as part of that reseach he was producing F1 kittens from a domestic tabby and an ALC. Having produced the kittens, and run the required blood tests, he needed to find homes for them.

Bill gave Jean (now Jean Mill) four of these F1 kittens - Liquid Amber, Favie, Shy Sister and Doughnuts.

Some of the kittens were also given to Gordon Meredith for his small zoo in the Mojave Desert, but Gordon was taken ill and had to re-home his cats. Jean then took in some of Gordon’s cats - Pennybank, Praline, Rorschach, Raisin Sunday, and Wine Vinegar.

But now came a problem.... the F1, and F2, and sometimes F3 males are almost always sterile. So Jean had to find a boy she could use.

Jean went to India in 1982 and found a beautifully spotted domestic cat, which she had shipped back to her home in California, and called him Tory of Delhi. Tory of Delhi was registered as an ‘Indian Mau’ and can be found in the extended pedigree of most early Bengals. He was covered in small dark brown, distinct spots with a shiny golden-orange coat.

Tory went on to be the foundation male for the Bengal breed, and was used by some Egyptian Mau breeders to improve their bloodlines (often shown as Toby in Egyptian Mau pedigrees).

Jean had many struggles to overcome prejudice in the early days, especially when she was accused of putting ‘wild blood’ in the Maus, but she also got lots of support from some Ocicat breeders (notably Gogees).

In 1983 Destiny was born to Tory and Praline - Jean didn’t realise at that time that male kittens are usually sterile in the early generations.. Destiny was 25% ALC and should have been infertile - but he proved to be the first fertile F2 male, though he was only able to produce kittens for a short time.

He managed a few litters, and surprised everyone when he and Polyspot had a cat with a sparkling golden coat - Silk n Cinders. A month later Destiny and Praline had a similarly shiny golden male called Aries. The unusual coat then surfaced at Gogees too, from Silk n Cinders kittens. These were the first ‘glittered’ Bengals.

Later in 1986 Penny Ante came along, and that’s when the Bengal truly became known. Penny Ante not only looked like a little leopard, but was also really friendly and relaxed - and completely stole every one of the 27 shows she went to.

In 1987 Cinders and Torchbearer gave Jean another surprise - a completely new kind of kitten - with a very soft cream coloured coat with a weird swirling pattern across it. This was Painted Desert - the first marble, and she was a sensation at the cat shows. The horizontal flow of the marbles is another trait that is only found in Bengals.

Jean continued to introduce new ALCs into her line - notable ones being Cameo and Kabuki.

Jean retired from breeding Bengals in 2007.