What is a Bengal? A Bengal’s is a purebred domestic cat that is derived from a hybrid. The hybrid was developed by breeders over several generations through a program of selectively cross breeding domestic cats with Asian Leopard Cats (ALC’s) and early generation ALC hybrids.
While there are differences in their anatomy when compared to conventional domestic breeds, they always falls within the norm for the size and general appearance of a domestic house cat, well other than their amazing coats.
It is commonly accepted that the breeder responsible for the creation of the Bengal is Jean Mill of California. Here is an article from the 1991 issue of CAT FANCY written by Jean that I managed to track down. (For my efforts I got a very nice email from Jean thanking us.)
It is assumed that the modern Bengal contains genes from crossings with many varieties of domestic cats. The primary breed used in the development was the Maus, but the Abyssinian, Ocicat, and domestic shorthaired have made significant contributions as well.
Today’s best Bengal’s are the result of Bengal to Bengal breeding. The breed is well established and has evolved in appearance and personality past the results obtainable by crossing ALC’s with Bengals. A quality purebred Bengal has better colors, the spots are far more complex, behavioral traits are far more socially desirable, they are a better companion in most every regard.
That is not to say that breeders do not have a ways to go to achieve Jean Mills stated goals for the breed, but it is so close that one might say that we are now fine tuning for perfection and preference.
The Asian Leopard Cat and the early generation hybrids do not generally make good pets. If the proper environment is provided they will usually bond very tightly with one or two family members, but they are typically exceedingly shy. They will run and hide from the first sign of anything new, unusual or any form of commotion.
This is not something that can be socialized out of them or that they will outgrow. It is a strongly ingrained core level survival trait of the ALC and the closer the hybrid is to the ALC the more clearly you can expect that trait to be expressed. While this is the norm for an ALC it is not a common trait of the Bengal. A properly bred SBT Bengal should be a confident curious and loving animal.
It is acceptable to outcross back to an ALC, but most breeders that still use ALC’s generally do so for personal reasons, or for marketing purposes, not because it improves the breed.
When Does a Hybrid Become a Bengal?
It can be a bit of a complicated thing to explain. This is at least partially due to the fact that not all Registries operate under the same guidelines when dealing with hybrids. We are a TICA registered cattery and so for us, it is their rules that count.
When an Asian Leopard Cat is crossed with a domestic, the first three generations are commonly referred to as F1’s, F2’s and F3’s. Anything prior to the F4 is not technically a purebred Bengal and it is not registrable as such. It is not a full Bengal until the F4 which is the fourth generation removed from the pure ALC.
The F stands for filial and the first three filial generations are called the foundation generations. So just to clarify,
- F1 – a domestic cat crossed with an Asian Leopard Cat and is registered as a Foundation Bengal
- F2 – a female F1 is crossed with a domestic cat, should be a Bengal and is registered as a Foundation Bengal
- F3 – a female F2 is crossed with a domestic, should be a Bengal and is registered as a Foundation Bengal
- F4 – a female F3 crossed with a Bengal and is registered as a Stud Book Tradition (SBT) Bengal
A Stud Book Tradition (SBT) Bengal is a purebred Bengal. The reason I made a point of stating that female Foundation Bengals are used in breeding is because the males are generally sterile until F4. (There are records of very rare Foundation males that were able to reproduce.)
The F1, F2, F3 hybrid crosses are registered with TICA as Foundation Bengals and are not eligible for show. The F4’s and beyond are registered as SBT (Stud Book Tradition) Bengals and they are eligible for show status. It is rare to hear them referred to as SBT Bengals. They are simply called Bengals.
It is important to understand that the early generation Bengals require more care and experience to manage and care for. From F4 and on they are pretty much the same as maintaining a conventional cat.