The woman, Jean Mill, who founded the Bengal cat breed made a fatal mistake at the very beginning because she chose the wrong small wild cat. There are a number of small wild cats that could have been chosen to create a wild cat hybrid suitable for living with families in their homes. But she chose the Asian Leopard cat because she liked its appearance. The Asian leopard cat does have a wonderful appearance with high contrast markings. All the focus is on the cat’s appearance at the expense of character which, in truth, should be the more important aspect of a domestic cat.
Regrettably, and I suppose she was not fully aware of it at the time, the Asian leopard cat has a fractious, difficult and utterly untameable character which would be incorporated within her new and wonderfully impressive looking Bengal cat.
So, Jean Mill created a good-looking cat which is what the market demanded at the time. It was the time of the creation of new cat breeds. It was the heyday of the creation of new cat breeds (the middle of the 20th century) and pretty well all the focus was on appearance.
And now, years later we have the Bengal cat coming top of the league in terms of lack of affection and aggressive tendencies amongst all the domestic cat breeds. It is simply a legacy of the beginning of the breed.
Apparently, Jean Mill bought an Asian leopard cat from a pet shop. There is so much wrong with that simple statement by today’s standards. It wouldn’t happen today. Or I hope not.
It would have been far more sensible if Jean Mill wanted to create a wild cat hybrid to have chosen another small wild cat. Better still, from my point of view, don’t start a new breed at all but focus on the unwanted cats and cat shelters and get them rehoused with good cat caretakers.
I would expect the other well-known wild cat hybrid, the Savannah cat to have a slightly better character than the Bengal cat because the wild cat ancestor of the Savannah cat is the serval which has a character more suited to domestication. We know this because quite a lot of people domesticate the serval, which although unsatisfactory, at least indicates that this medium-sized cat is more suitable than the Asian leopard cat. There are no domesticated Asian leopard cats in existence as far as I am aware.
One problem is that the serval’s coat is not quite as glamorous as the Asian leopard cat’s coat. The same goes for other small wild cats such as the jungle cat, sand cat, pampas cat, Geoffroy’s cat et cetera. The ocelot has a wonderful coat but nobody has succeeded in making a wild cat hybrid from that species (Sarah Hartwell will add to that no doubt).
I suspect, that the ocelot’s character is similar to that of the Asian leopard cat. Although I do hear them being ‘domesticated’ and treated as domestic animals. Also, the margay is another small wild cat which is sometimes domesticated and I read that this cat has a relatively affable character making it more suitable to domestication. But this cat’s coat is less attractive. The selection of a suitable small wild cat species is all about appearance leaving us with a less than ideal domestic cat in the Bengal.
In addition, there is an element of convenience about how the Bengal cat breed started. As mentioned, Jean Mill saw an Asian leopard cat in a shop window and bought it. It was a simple as that. I suspect that you could not see other small wild cat species in shop windows in America at that time. The fact that this wild cat was in a shop window is a poor start and a poor reason to start a new breed.
My reading on the matter indicates that the Asian leopard cat, from the point of view of character, is the least suitable small wild cat species from which to develop a wild cat hybrid for living amongst people in their homes.
P.S. I have been critical of Jean Mill: Article one and article two. There is a terrible selfishness about her behavior which I strongly dislike. The Bengal cat is a product of human consumer egocentricity and the desire to possess beautiful objects.
The CFA (Cat Fanciers’ Association) does not recognise the Bengal cat and rejects all wild cat hyrids.
P.P.S. This article is deliberately slightly provocative.