History and Background
The Bengal cat breed is singular in the cat fancy as the only successful pairing of a wild cat with a domestic cat. There is some anecdotal evidence that pairings of the Asian leopard cat with domestic cats had been attempted prior to the 1960s, but the real genesis of the Bengal breed began in earnest in the 1970s, when amateur breeder Jean Sudden, of California, became the recipient of a group of cats that had been bred for use in genetic testing. Dr. Willard Center wall of Loyola University had been testing Asian Leopards for their partial immunity to feline leukemia, and began cross breeding them with domestic cats for possible genetic viability in immunization development.
Rather than destroy the cats after the program was completed, Dr. Center wall searched for appropriate homes for his cats. Because Ms. Sudden had an actual interest in breeding Asian leopard hybrids, she chose not to take all of the cats, instead focusing on those cats that were showing a predilection for domestic temperament along with the desired spotting patterns.
For her part, Ms. Sudden had begun her first experiments in cat hybridization while studying genetics at UC Davis in the 1940s. When presented with the opportunity to work with Dr. Centerwall's Asian leopards and their hybrids, she took to it with enthusiasm, and although Dr. Centerwall was fully supportive of Ms. Sudgen's endeavors, the same could not be said for the cat fancy community. Most breeders were staunchly against breeding a wild cat with a domestic, and to this day, the Cat Fanciers Association continues to refuse registration to the Bengal because of its wild bloodline, though many other associations have included the Bengal breed since the 1980s, including The International Cat Association. MS. Sudgen, who had by now remarried and taken the name Mill, had been cautioned that the offspring of her crossings would be sterile, and this did prove true for the males that resulted from the mating, but she had better luck with the female hybrids. Before she could fully immerse herself in her new breeding program, however, Ms. Mill needed an appropriate male cat to cross with her female Asian leopard hybrids. Feeling that neither the Mau, Burmese, or Abyssinian pure breeds were genetically strong enough, she opened her net wider, and in 1982, her patience paid off when a curator for the New Delhi Zoo, in India, pointed her to a leopard-like street cat that was living on its own in the rhinoceros' exhibit at the zoo. Although the cat was feral, it proved to be an excellent mate for her hybrid females, and within years Ms. Mill had her successful, though still fledgling, breeding program well underway.