History of the Bengal

A (very) brief history of the cat

The family of the cats are amongst the oldest mammals on the planet. A member of this family is called a felid and the first felid was born about 25 million years ago.


The first true cat was the Proailurus

The African Wildcat, often called the Desert Cat or Desert Wildcat, appears to have diverged from the other subspecies about 131,000 years ago.

African Wild Cat sleeping in the grass

African Wild Cat sleeping in the grass

Carlos A. Driscoll of the National Cancer Institute spent six years collecting species of wildcat from around the world for the purpose of DNA testing. This revealed that there are five subspecies of wildcat distributed across the Old World. They are known as the European wildcat, the Near Eastern wildcat, the Southern African wildcat, the Central Asian wildcat and the Chinese desert cat.

The DNA of all domestic cats originated with the Near Eastern wildcat cluster. The domestics fell into five lineages indicating that all domestic cats are originated from five individuals. This study was based on the analysis of mitochondrial DNA.

The Crystal Palace in London England

The Crystal Palace in London England

The history of the Bengal
The first organized cat show was held at the Crystal Palace in London on the 13th of July, 1871 and with it was born the Cat Fancy.

According to records the breeds shown were the Persian, Angoras, Manx, Abyssinian, the Royal Cats of Siam and domestic cats crossed with wild cats, hybrids.

The record indicates that the hybrids on display we produced by crossing the domestic short hair with a spotted jungle cat. The shows continued in 1873 and again in 1875 and in every case there was a class for wild or hybrid cats.

It’s nice to think that that those first hybrids shown in 1871 might have been crosses of an ALC with a domestic but we will never know. What we do know though is that the hybrid has every bit as long a history in cat shows as any of the so called older breeds.

A mention in a Belgian scientific journal in 1934 of an ALC/domestic cross was the first record we could find of a Bengal (although the term Bengal didn’t come up till many years later). In 1941 a Japanese cat publication printed an article about an ALC/domestic cross that was kept as a pet.

As a point of interest, Jean Sugden (later to become Jean Mill), submitted a term paper for her genetics class at UC Davis on the subject of cross breeding cats in 1946.

An intelligent and articulate woman, Jean’s journey was filled with tragedy and she suffered greatly for her vision but she refused to be stilled.  I personally would like thank Jean for her vision and determination and for her very nice email about our website.

Jean’s first experience with the ALC/domestic occurred in the early 60’s and a vision was born

Jean Sugden (Mill) with Kin Kin
” We can all thank my beautiful ALC “Malaysia”, imported from SE Asia in 1961, for her love of a black domestic shorthaired tomcat. Her baby, KinKin, shown in the upper right of the color photo page, was a thrilling surprise, for I was unaware of anyone else doing this research. I did not even suspect Malaysia’s pregnancy! The male littermate was fatally mauled while being removed for its safety from Malaysia through the bottom of her cardboard nest box, but KinKin was put safely with a newborn Himalayan litter while still birth-wet..”“When my husband, Bob Sugden, died, I gave Malaysia to the San Diego zoo, and moved to Southern California to an apartment. There KinKin and Pantherette contracted pneumonitus (we didn’t have vaccines for it then) and died. Thus ended my early project.”

Throughout the 60’s there were many well known breeders that produced Bengal’s but few took it past the F1 stage and records indicate that none were known to go past F2. In addition to breeders efforts, the Zoological Society of London mentions several ALC hybrids being born in zoo’s in Europe.

The 60’s was also a time that saw an epidemic of feline leukemia. It seemed that many wild cats had a natural immunity to the disease and some other illnesses such as FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus). This would come to have a great influence on the development of the Bengal when in the 70’s Loyola University would start a research program to investigate if this natural immunity could be bred in or replicated. ( It can’t. )

Loyola’s research program was called the Centerwall Project as it was run by Dr Willard Centerwall. He was interested in investigating the partial immunity ALC’s have to feline leukemia. For the purpose of his research he needed access to ALC/domestic crosses that he could draw blood from to see if the immunity had been passed on to the hybrid. The cross breeding was handled by Gordon Meredith, and Mary Gepford. These F1’s had no further use once a sample of their blood was drawn so the study produced a significant number of F1’s that needed homes.

Asian Leopard in cage

Notice the flow to this ALC’s pattern, he thick tail, small ears and the head shape. These are some of the key  traits we breeders  are chasing .

While the 60’s and 70’s saw considerable experimentation there was little effort to create a breed from these hybrids. There were some cat clubs formed that centered on hybrids and some of these clubs began to orient more on something William Engler, a member of the Long Island Ocelot Club and a breeder, called a Bengal. It is believed that Mr Engler got the name from the Asian Leopard Cats scientific name, Prionailurus Bengalensis.

Several of the clubs that oriented on hybrids started producing newsletters detailing the process of producing Bengal’s and Safari. There were also a couple of clubs oriented specifically on the Bengal such as “Another Bengal Club” and the “Bengal-seen Luchsals Fanciers”. Members of these clubs actually bred some second and third generation Bengal’s which were registered with the American Cat Fanciers Association (A.C.F.A.) in 1977 as experimental. They were displayed at several A.C.F.A. cat shows throughout the 70’s.

It was here that Jean Sugden resurfaced again. She had remarried and was now Jean Mill and the following quote explains her increased interest in renewing her breeding efforts.

“..I deliberately crossed leopard cats with domestic cats for several important reasons. At that time, wild cats were being exploited for the fur market. Nursing female leopard cats defending their nests were shot for their pelts, and the cubs were shipped off to pet stores worldwide. Unsuspecting cat lovers bought them, unaware of the danger, their unpleasant elimination habits and the unsuitability of keeping wild cats as pets.
Most of the wild kittens from this era ended up in zoos or escaped onto city streets. I hoped that by putting a leopard coat on a domestic cat, the pet trade could be safely satisfied. If fashionable women could be dissuaded from wearing furs that look like friends’ pets, the diminished demand would result in less poaching of wild species.”
Jean Mill

Jean acquired 4 female F1’s from the Centerwall study.

“In 1980..,Bob Mill agreed to restarting my project in our tree-filled back yard,…  In trying to obtain another ALC, I contacted Capt. Zobel of the Calif. Fish and Game, who referred me to Dr. Willard Centerwall in Riverside. Bill was enthusiastic about sharing some F1 kittens he had produced using domestic tabbys at Loma Linda University for his studies into Feline Leukemia. Once the F1s had donated blood samples for his research, he needed homes for them. He gave me Liquid Amber (3/4 ALC), Favie (for Favorite), Shy Sister, and Doughnuts, all his family’s pets.“Jean Mill

She later received another 5 hybrids from another source, but originally from the Centerwall project, and the following is quoted from Jeans web site.

“Gordon Meridith had obtained some of Bill’s stock earlier for his little zoo in the Mojave desert, but in 1980, was in the hospital, struck down with cancer. He asked Bill to place his cats for him. Bill and I ‘rescued’ five of Bill’s original hybrids (now adult), which I named Praline, Pennybank, Rorschach (grayish charcoal), Raisin Sunday (she was partially leopard spotted but with large white-spotting blazes on face, legs, and lower half), and Wine Vinegar (who ate her only litter). Gordon had bred them to an Abyssinian tom…”Jean Mill

Jean did not want to use existing domestic breeds to create her new bred. The ALC is a genetically superiour animal compared to the existing registered breeds and her goal was to maintain as much of that superiority as possible so the search was on. Around 1982 the Mill’s made a trip to India where a zoo curator showed them a feral domestic cat that apparently lived in the rhinoceros display. Jean made arrangements to have this Indian Mau shipped to the states this was how the famous rosetted domestic called “Millwood Tory of Delhi” came to be found in virtually all Bengal pedigrees

Delhi with 3 F1 females.

Delhi on left with queens Millwood Praline, Millwood Pennybank, and Millwood Rorschach. All Millwood pedigrees go back to these four cats.



One of the few pictures of the father of the modern Bengal.

“Delhi” was a domestic cat found running loose under the rhinoceros at the New Delhi zoo in 1984. He was better spotted (NO ribstripes!) and more glittery-rufous than I had ever seen in America. He was used mostly with F1 queens at first (after several frustrating years of vainly trying to breed them to F1 males), but also gave his robust blood to the inbred traditional Egyptian Mau breed to make what was subsequently called ‘Indian Maus’. In E. Mau pedigrees, he is TOBY and is registered CFA and TICA as a Mau.”


Jean Mill

Jean now had everything she needed to lay the foundation for a new breed and for the first time someone started breeding ALC based hybrids with full intentions of taking them well past the F2/F3 stage.

Someone else that needs to be given some credit is Greg and Elizabeth Kent who developed their own line of Bengal’s using ALC’s and Egyptian Maus. They were quite successful and many modern Bengal’s will find genetics from their program in their pedigree. Jean had also considered the Egyptian Mau but decided against it as she believed better options existed.

As the Kents and Jean Mill started to show their respective lines of Bengal’s the public enthusiasm built rapidly. Finally a cat with the exotic wild look people desired was available without the drawbacks of a wild animal. As their popularity grew so did the number of breeders and owners, which led to the formation of T.I.C.A.’s Bengal Breed Section. T.I.C.A. adopted the first written breed standard in 1986 and the first Bengal Bulletin was published in Nov/Dec 1988.

Once the ball started rolling we saw the formation of The International Bengal Cat Society (T.I.B.C.S.), the Bengal Breeders Alliance (B.B.A.) and the Authentic Bengal Cat League (A.B.C.L.). These organizations were formed to promote good breeding practices, discourage unscrupulous breeders and attempt to educate people about the Bengal breed.

Today, they are the number one registered breed with TICA.  It is highly likely that they would dominate all of the Cat registries if it were not for odd rules, regulations and prejudices.

A hybrid, possibly even a Bengal, was shown at the very first cat fancy. The same cat fancy that all of the other fancies evolved from. Like it or not the Bengal is already older then many breeds, is here to stay and rightly so. They are a truly amazing cat and perhaps the worlds greatest companion animal.

The web site of Jean Mill
Article written by Gregory Kent, Ph.D. and Elizabeth Kent, M.S. / February 1997blogs.adison.edu/companions/category/geography/