Asian Leopard Cat
The Bengal Cat is unique amongst domestic cats, in that it is descended from crosses with the Asian Leopard Cat, a small wild spotted cat, weighing about ten pounds. The following is a peek at the wild heritage of the Bengal Cat. The general build of an Asian Leopard Cat (Felis bengalensis) is similar to a normal domestic catbut with somewhat longer legs and a longer back. They have a relatively small head with a short narrow muzzle, large eyes (because of their nocturnal habits) and a thick tail of about 11 to 14 inches length. Body length varies between 25 to 32 inches, and they weigh between 7 to 15 pounds. Size and weight vary between subspecies in different geographical regions, but the males are generally heavier than the females. There are around ten sub-species, showing distinct variations in body colour. For example, cats in the Northern regions tend towards reddish brown spotting on a yellowish-grey background and leopard cats from more humid regions tending to be more ochre-yellow to brownish. Now that the Bengal breeding programme is maturing, more Leopard Cat bloodlines are being introduced into the breed, bringing with it this diversity of colours.
The cats’ beautiful markings, which have in many ways been their downfall by attracting the attention of the fur trade, are striking and show some variation between individuals. All subspecies have a spotted or ringed tail, with a black tail tip, four black bands running from the forehead to the back of the neck, breaking up into elongated spots on the neck and shoulders, often forming a " broken necklace". The round black ears have a white spot on the back, and all cats have a white underside, throat and cheek-flashes. The underparts are spotted on the white background. The body markings can be solid or rosetted and sometimes show marbling.
Where are they found
Despite its name, the Asian Leopard Cat is not restricted to southern Asia, but can be found across India, through China, Korea and the Soviet Far East. It can also be found on islands such as Sumatra, Philippines, Taiwan, Borneo, Bali and Java. Naturally, the widespread habitat of the Asian Leopard has led to many different names, such as the Javan cat, Wagati cat, Chinese cat or "money cat", so called because the spots resembled Chinese coins.
Of the small cats, Felis bengalensis is probably one of the most common and widespread, and most authorities do not consider it to be in imminent danger of extinction. However, the destruction of its habitat by rapidly expanding human populations, deforestation, farming, and soil erosion, all remain threats to the wild cat populations. The Asian Leopard Cat has therefore been placed on Appendix II of the CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) and its trade is regulated as an endangered species.
Asian Leopard Behavior
Asian Leopard Cats are generally solitary and nocturnal in behaviour and prefer brush and forest as their habitat. They make their dens in hollow trees, small caves or under large roots and, living in a wide variety of environments, have an unusually wide variety of skills. For example, they often live near water and are accomplished swimmers and fishers. This legacy lives on in the Bengal’s liking for playing in water, and pawing at aquariums! Equally, they are very agile climbers - very much at home in the trees, hunting for birds, squirrels, tree shrews and other prey. Indeed there are some reports of tropical Leopard Cats being totally tree dwelling in their nature.
How did the Bengal come about
Bengal cats are the descendants of a cross between the Asian Leopard Cat and a domestic cat, originally Egyptian Maus, Abyssians or Ocicats. A first generation cross is called an F1. An F2 is the progeny of one F1 parent and one domestic parent (usually a Bengal these days), and an F3 has one F2 parent and one domestic parent. F1 males are usually sterile, and F2 and F3 males also often have fertility problems. The early stages of breeding programs are therefore usually carried by crossing female Asian Leopard Cat hybrids with male domestic cats. The fourth generation removed from the wild and beyond can be considered a domestic animal, and is officially a Bengal, rather than a Leopard Cat hybrid. Given that the breeding programme will have been explicitly aimed at producing good pets, the resulting Bengals should display the beautiful markings and unusual behaviour of the wild cats, whilst inheriting the domestic cat’s social nature and adaptability to human lifestyles.
There is some debate as to whether the ‘F’ hybrid cats are suitable for pets. As they move a couple of generations away from the wild, certain individual hybrid cats with social natures and good ‘upbringings’ certainly make good, if highly specialized pets. Even those which are ‘pet-worthy’ however, are only really suitable for very experienced pet keepers, able to understand and cater for the needs of what is essentially a semi-wild animal, and are by no means appropriate pets for the average family! Fortunately, the Bengal cat itself, is very suitable as a family pet, and the rest of this web site gives more details on their appearance and behaviour.
Article by Claire Robson