Approximately 40 different species of cat exist today and the domestic cat is just one of them. The three genre that are recognised today are Panthera, which are the big cats such as lions, tigers, panthers; Felis, the smaller cats and, Acinonyx which is the cheetah and the only cat that cannot completely retract its claws.
There are over 600 million domestic cats in the world, and they are all descended from just 5 female wildcats from 5 regional groups. Approximately. 10,000 years ago, they moved from the wild savannahs of Africa and the near East to the early human settlements. The domestic cat (Felis silvestris catus) still retains its wild roots and hasn’t changed very much from its wildcat ancestors, now referred to as the Near East Wildcats (Felis silvestris lybica).
Generally all cats have the same overall shape and size, unlike dogs, where selective breeding has produced a whole myriad of shapes, sizes and temperaments. The Near East Wildcats where lean and fine coated, perfect for the hot temperatures. While those that migrated towards Western Europe with the cooler temperatures became stockier and thicker coated. Those that spread into Asia had less insulating fur and became lighter and thinner, eventually earning the name Oriental Cats.
History of the Bengal
The Bengal is nearer to its wild cat origins than any other domesticated breed of cat. The Bengal comes under the breed type of Foreign short haired and was first originated in the US in 1970s. The Bengal’s breed characteristics come from a mixing of the Asian Leopard Cat, Indian street cats, Egyptian Mau, Abyssinian, Burmese and the domestic tabby cat .
The Asian Leopard – Felis Bengalensis – which is where the domesticated cat derives its name, is a timid reclusive and untameable wild cat and can be found on both mainland Asia and the surrounding islands, although in some areas they are nearly extinct or at best considered endangered. Locally they have been given common names which give an idea of their activities and appearance – “the fishing cat”, “rusty spotted cat” and “flat-headed cat”. Their colours vary; they are darker if they live in the warmer regions and paler in the cooler parts of Asia, so this in turn has affected the colouring of the domesticated version of the Asian Leopard.
The Asian Leopard wildcat characteristics were bred out of the domesticated Bengal, but it is only after 4 generations that this breed is considered to be domesticated. In the first generation all male kittens were born sterile, so further cross breeding with specific domestic cats, Egyptian Mau, Abyssinian, Burmese and the domestic tabby cat, allowed the breed to be developed.
The Bengal cat has a big personality, and you will have a genuine two-way relationship if you have a Bengal, very similar to the one you would have with a dog. Bengals are not aloof cats that will ignore you, they are also not a dull, quiet cat, and they crave affection. They are always on the move and are very athletic, and are able to leap to great heights and distance. Don’t be surprised if your Bengal suddenly appears on your shoulder to take a keen interest in whatever you are up to at that moment. And, when excited they can tremble and will twitch their tail which will fluff up to mammoth raccoon proportions. If you are wanting a low key, quiet cat as a companion, do not choose a Bengal!
It is this closeness to their wild ancestry that so interests owners and prospective Bengal cat owners. This cat just looks like a miniature leopard, it has a completely different call to the ordinary domestic cat, it coos and chirrups rather than mieuws. The Bengal is a large cat, muscular with slightly rounded hind quarters that are higher than the shoulders. They have a round head with small ears that are rounded at the tips. They are inquisitive, intelligent, friendly and affectionate. Bengals do not fear other cats, or any other animal, in fact. The wildness has been bred out of Bengals, but because they are so energetic they may inadvertently scratch as they run across you or jump, so bear this in mind if you have young children in the house.
They are also quite happy in water, naturally great climbers and are very playful. You may notice a trait from their ancestry when they approach their water bowl, some Bengals swish the water with their paw before drinking. It is thought that this comes from when they would clear any debris from a pond before drinking in the wild. Best not leave a glass or mug of water unattended if you have a Bengal in the house!
Because of their love and non fear of water you would be well advised not to leave bleach in your toilet bowl, or if you do, make sure you put the toilet seat down. Just in case your Bengal has a tendency to drink from the toilet bowl! It is also a good idea, as with all cats and small pets, to check the washing machine and tumble dryer before you put a load on! If you have a fish tank in the house that has no lid – get a lid! They will also more often than not join you in your bath!
The Bengal colouring as we mentioned above depends on the original ancestry of where they lived. However, all Bengals have the specific characteristic markings that are very distinctive and a constant reminder of their Asian Leopard Cat ancestry. These are dark spots lined horizontally with random spots on a lighter background, or sometimes simply random. Rosette spots have light centres that are multi-shaded, the rosette markings are very desirable and Bengals are the only domesticated cats that have these marketings. The other patterning is marbling and is very different from the spotted pattern. Asian Leopard Cats don’t have this marbling, so it has come through the breeding with domestic tabbies that have these markings. The white spot on the back of their dark ears is known as the ocelli and can be seen on all leopards. Bengals have a thick, luxuriant coat that glitters in the light as if sprinkled by gold dust and in some colourings it has a pearlesque effect. Their fur has a different feel to your usual domesticated cat, and is more silky to the touch.
Varieties include Leopard Spotted and Snow (see below).
Snow Bengal – this variety clearly shows the Burmese-Tonkinese pattern in their coat. The deepest colour is the points and the fur appears to glitter. Cream to light brown, with a glittering sheen to the coat. This is a fairly large cat but is inquisitive, friendly and affectionate.
Brown Tabby – they can have a reddish brown, yellow, buff, golden or orange undercoat, all dusted with that gold glittering. Eyes are gold, green or hazel.
Blue-Eyed Snow – This variety is ivory/cream and the glittering gives a pearlesque sheen. Patterning is charcoal to dark or light brown. Colouring around the eyes is light, which gives the impression they are wearing spectacles. Eyes are blue.
Brown Snow – Fur is cream to light brown, with the pearlesque glitter. The patterning varies from charcoal to light brown. Ears, Eyes and nose have a black outline and the eyes can be gold, green or a blue/green.
Blue – Mushroom to oatmeal colouring with a slight pinkish tinge. The patterning is pale blue veering towards a blue/grey shade. Eyes, lips and nose are outlined in slate grey. Eyes are green or blue/green.
Toyger – this cat is a mix of Bengal with mackerel Tabby cats, the resulting cat looks very much like a tiger – hence the name. This cat is all muscle, with the coat still having the glitter effect that is a trademark of the Bengal, with the fur being striped in pattern without the curved lines of the mackerel tabby.
Understanding the breed
|Temperament||Good with children||Breed|
|Sociable – do you want a cat that comes over to you and likes to be stroked, is curious and playful and very active.||Yes, but they should wait until the cat comes to them.||Bengal|
|Calm – is slightly reticent in coming over to you to make contact, but is a patient cat.||Yes, but wait until the cat approaches them.||Definitely NOT a Bengal.|
|Shy and a little timid – stays a short distance away and watches. Once they get over this shyness they will become very close to you.||OK||Definitely NOT a Bengal.|
|Impulsive – likes to be centre of attention, but will ignore you if you ignore them.||Not so good, very temperamental||Abyssinian, Burmese, Oriental Shorthair, Rex, Russian Blue, Siamese|