Asian Leopard Cat - looking deeply unhappy in a nasty cage in a Malaysian zoo. Why do we do this?
Of the wild cat parents of domestic cats, the Asian Leopard cat (ALC) is not one of the most suitable. I decided this having read a article by a person who cares for ALCs. With hindsight, if you were starting from scratch today, breeding a wild cat hybrid, it is interesting to ask whether the ALC was the best wild cat for the job? This is in despite of the fact that the Bengal cat (the wild cat hybrid in question) is by far the best known wild cat hybrid.
It seems that the selection of the ALC happened by pure chance when Jean Mill, the founder of the Bengal breed decided to create a wild cat hybrid. An ALC was being used in animal testing/research by a person she knew and one thing led to another. Not a very auspicious start really. But it was a time (the 1960s and 70s) when the idea of wild cat hybrids was taking shape. Here was a tailor made opportunity for a cat breeder to start a whole new cat breed from scratch and become famous for it.
The trouble is that at that time and to a large extent today, people did not know that much about the wild cats, particularly the small wild cats and the ALC is the size of a domestic cat with a coat that was at the time far more glamorous, to some people at least. The ALC is possibly the wildest of the small wild cats. In a very interesting article1, Thierry Plaud describes what it is like to look after Asian Leopard cats and it is quite revealing because the focus in the article is on the character of the cat and how to deal with that and how it impinges on the relationship between cat and human. This is important in that a bit of the ALC is in the Bengal cat (approximately 12% in a stud book Bengal cat or domestic Bengal cat).
In reference to the title of his article Prejudices: The Asian Leopard Cat, Thierry says that the ALC is thought to be impossible to work with. And this is in comparison to other wild cats. For example, the lynx is thought of as sweet natured and the Serval as hissy (they do have a hiss that does not always mean what we think a cat's hiss should mean). On the basis alone that the Bengal is thought of as impossible this begs the question as to whether Jean should have created a wild cat hybrid from a different species of wild cat, say a lynx for starters. Although there a number of lynx/domestic hybrids. Were all of these founded before Jean created the Bengal cat? Not sure without research.
But the "impossible" tag is a prejudice so it is incorrect. However, not by that much wrong as far as I can tell. It seems that of all the wild cats that have been released to the wild from captivity the ALC is the most able and can cope the best. There are many failures by wild cats that couldn't. This indicates a deep rooted wild cat mentality that is untamable.
The ALC will adapt to living with people but readily drifts back to the wild state. For instance not interacting for 5 days with an ALC leads to a need to reacquaint yourself with this very self-possessed cat and to gain its trust.
The Bengal cat has retained a glimmer of this character and I wonder if that makes the Bengal truly the best kind of cat companion. They are a bit wild aren't they. Maybe it is that that makes them attractive but is it practical in the modern world? Could it have been done better? It was all a question of timing and circumstance. Of course it is all very well looking at things in hindsight.
As a candidate for a suitable wild cat in a wild cat breeding program, in hindsight, the ALC ticks the boxes in respect of appearance with its classic rosetted small wild cat coat but it fails on character when compared with a number of other candidates.
|Wild cat hybrid -the best known||Date created||Wild cat ancestor|
|Bengal cat||1963||Asian Leopard cat|
|Safari Cat||1970s||Geoffroy's cat|
What happened to the African wildcat as a parent for a hybrid? This cat was domesticated thousands of years ago and is ideal as a domestic cat. But the defining criteria, the colour and markings of the coat are not up to standard in the African wildcat. There are other wild cats that have fathered hybrids but these have failed to take off probably because of the domination of the Bengal and Savannah and people consider these two to be enough.