Bengal Cats - photograph copyright Helmi Flick.
The Bengal Cat origins are worth studying and thinking about as it tells us a lot about us and what we are doing and why we are doing it. The lives of domestic cats are in our hands. The way we think and behave dictates the wellbeing of the lives of all domestic cats. All the reviews on the beginning of the Bengal breed are very benign (lack proper discussion, are uncritical). Here is a different angle. But please don't misinterpret what I say.
Most know that a women called Jean Mill started the Bengal cat breed. She retired from breeding Bengal cats in 2007, I understand. She is acclaimed and thought of fondly. Dare one be critical of her?
Bengal cat origins began when she first bred a wild/domestic cat hybrid in 1963. She says that she "bought" an Asian Leopard Cat (ALC) from a pet shop (couldn't do that now). I suppose times have changed in attitudes about cats. I hope so. But I don't think one "buys" cats. Do we "own" cats. Or do we keep cats and adopt and care for cats (and they care for us too to a certain and sometimes large extent). I am surprised she used the word "bought". I don't know, but it would seem even at that time that it was not a good idea to have a wild cat caged up in a pet shop for sale.
Moving on. The ALC she bought mated with a domestic cat she put in the cage with the ALC. This first step in wildcat/domestic cat hybridization was aborted as Jean Mill had to move from her home to an apartment (no space).
Moving on to the breeding programme proper. After Jean remarried she was able to recommence. She says that she "installed.....many zoo-like cages". Was this good for the cats or good for her? Sorry to be a bit critical but a lot of people don't think zoos are a good idea.
Photograph of Bengal Kittens copyright Helmi Flick
Jean Mill acquired F1 hybrid Bengal cats from a medical research scientist who was doing research into leukemia. The ALC has partial immunity to feline leukemia. I presume that the research was for the benefit of humans. Some people don't like the idea of other animals being used for medical research for the benefit of humans.
Cats are not infrequently used in medical research as they have conditions similar to ours. Sometimes the cats are sacrificed (killed) as a result.
It seems that Jean Mill was the first cat breeder to think about producing a "tame toy leopard". Is it wise to try and produce an animal that we refer to as a "toy"? Does this demonstrate a respect for animals generally. Or does it demonstrate the idea that we are better and different to other animals and have the right to play God with them?
Jean Mill then went to India and imported back from that country a feral or street cat with markings that she felt would produce the right offspring when mated with an ALC. I am guessing but an Indian street cat might not, through no fault of her/his own, be that healthy. I presume that she had the Indian cat checked out for inherited diseases such as HCM. The trouble is that HCM is due to a genetic mutation and there are many mutations that could be responsible. The science is only now being developed to isolate the genes for screening.
The Indian cat mated with the female hybrids (presumed F1 hybrids adopted from the scientist mentioned above). One of the offspring was Millwood Tory of Delhi. She says that the genes from this cat are found in "virtually all Bengal pedigrees". Playing devils advocate for a minute, what if the Indian cat had a predisposition to HCM? I don't know what tests were carried out. In any case at that time the science of screening for a genetic predisposition to heart disease was probably unheard of, or its infancy. Does someone know. If so please leave a comment.
The breeding of Bengal cats has been a worldwide success for us. Has it been the same success for the Bengal cats?
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