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The Bengal is a relatively new hybrid breed of cat, formed by the cross of an Asian Leopard Cat ("ALC") and a domestic feline such as an Abyssinan, American Shorthair, Burmese, or Egyptian Mau. The first Bengal Cats were bred in 1963 by Jean Sugden Mills; and later in 1972, with eight female ALC-domestic offspring she acquired from the University of Calfornia.
Bengal cats have "wild-looking" markings, such as large spots, rosettes, and a light/white belly, and a body structure reminiscent of the Asian Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis bengalensis). The Bengal cat has a desirable "wild" appearance with a gentle domestic cat temperament, provided it is separated by at least three generations from the original crossing between a domestic feline and an ALC.
The name Bengal cat was derived from the taxonomic name of the Asian Leopard Cat (P. b. bengalensis), and not from the unrelated Bengal tiger. The Bengal is a medium to large, sleek and well muscled cat, with rakish hindquarters slightly higher than shoulders. Female Bengals average from 7 to 11 pounds at maturity, and males can average from 11 to 18 pounds at full growth. The Bengal coat is short and dense, with a soft and silky feel, patterned in random spots or marbled, with a variety of acceptable colors. The coat may be "glittered," which is an effect that appears as if it were sprinkled with glitter.
To belie its wild background, a Bengal is described as lively, playful, affectionate, and intelligent. Bengals love water, and will splash in the sink, or even jump into the shower with you. The Bengal combines the exotic look and feel of the small forest-dwelling wild cats they descend from with the dependability and loving temperament of the domestic cat. For a walk on the wild side with an affectionate companion, you can't go wrong with a Bengal.
The Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) is a small wild cat of Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. There are eleven subspecies of Leopard Cat, classified according to their wide geographic dispersal. The Leopard Cat's name is derived from the leopard-like spots prevalent in all subspecies, but its relation to the leopard is distant, as the leopard is a member of a different genus, Panthera.
The Leopard Cat has the widest geographic distribution of all felines. It can be found in forest areas throughout Indonesia, Philippines, Borneo, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, China and Taiwan. The cat also can be found in Korea, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. Their range of habitat is varied, and includes tropical forest, scrubland, pine forest, second-growth woodland, semi-desert, and agricultural regions, especially near water sources; they may also be found at heights up to 3000 m.
On average, the Leopard Cat is as large as a Domestic Cat, but there are considerable regional differences: in Indonesia the average size is 45 cm (18 in), plus a 20 cm (8 in) tail, while it is 60 cm/40 cm (24/16 in) in the southern Amur region. The shoulder height is 41 cm (16 in) and the weight is 4.5-6.8 kg (10-15 lbs), similar to a Domestic Cat. The fur color is also variable: it is yellow in the southern populations, but silver-grey in the northern ones. The chest and the lower part of the head are white. The Leopard Cat bears black markings that may be spotted or rosetted, depending on the subspecies. It has litters of 2 to 4 kittens; the gestation period can vary from 60 to 70 days.
Habitat and behavior
The Leopard Cat is a skillful tree climber. It is also able to swim, but will seldom do so. This cat is nocturnal, and during the day it spends its time in dens that may be hollow trees, cavities under roots, or caves. It spends time outside during the day in areas where there are no humans. The Leopard Cat is solitary, except during breeding season. There is no fixed breeding period in the southern part of its range; in the colder northern parts it tends to breed around March or April, when the weather is nice enough to support newborn kittens. Leopard Cats usually pair for life and raise their cubs together for about 7 to 10 months. Full maturity is reached at 18 months, but in captivity, the male can become ready to breed at 7 months, and the female at 10 months.
Reproduction and development
The estrus period lasts for 5-9 days. After a gestation period of 9-10 weeks (60-70 days), two to four kittens are born in a den, where they remain until they are a month old. The kittens weigh about 75 to 130 g at birth and usually double their weight by age of two weeks; at five weeks, they are four times their birth weight. The eyes open at ten days, and the kittens start to eat solid food at 23 days. At the age of four weeks, the permanent canines appear, which coincides with their intake of solid food. If the kittens do not survive, the mother can come into heat again and have another litter that year.
Leopard Cats are carnivorous, and feed on variety of small prey, including mammals, lizards, amphibians, birds, and insects. The Northern subspecies of Leopard Cat also eat hares. The diet is often supplemented with grass, eggs, poultry, and aquatic prey.
In Hong Kong, the Leopard Cat is a protected species under the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance Cap 170. The population is well over 50,000 individuals and although declining, the cat is not endangered.