The Bengal is a hybrid breed of cat, formed by the cross of a domestic feline and an Asian Leopard Cat (ALC), Prionailurus bengalensis bengalensis.
The Bengal cat has a desirable “wild” appearance with large spots, rosettes, and a light/white belly, and a body structure reminiscent of the ALC. The Bengal possesses 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 more distantly related Bengal tiger.
The earliest mention of an ALC/domestic cross was in 1889, when Harrison Weir wrote in “Our Cats and All About Them” :
There is a rich-coloured brown tabby hybrid to be seen at the Zoological Society Gardens in Regent’s Park, between the wild cat of Bengal and a tabby she-cat. It is handsome, but very wild. These hybrids, I am told, will breed again with tame variety, or with others.
However in 1927, Mr Boden-Kloss wrote to the magazine “Cat Gossip” regarding hybrids between wild and domestic cats in Malaya:
I have never heard of hybrids between bengalensis (the Leopard Cat) and domestic cats. One of the wild tribes of the Malay Peninsula has domesticated cats, and I have seen the woman suckling bengalensis kittens, but I do not know whether the latter survive and breed with the others!
The earliest mention of a confirmed ALC/domestic cross was in 1934 in a Belgian scientific journal, and in 1941 a Japanese cat publication printed an article about one that was kept as a pet. Jean Mill (née Sugden), the person who was later a great influence of the development of the modern Bengal breed, submitted a term paper for her genetics class at UC Davis on the subject of cross breeding cats in 1946.