The Bengal Cat — the affectionate Mini-Leopard

"The leopard is without doubt the most perfect of all the cats. Both beautiful and agile, powerful and lively, clever and cunning, bold and devious, it is the highest form of predator" (translated from Brehm's Tierleben [Life of Animals], popular edition 1950, Der Leopard, page 94)

A cuddly cat that looks like a predator, like a leopard, but in miniature and not quite so dangerous. Right from the start of the 20th century, this was what many cat lovers were looking for.

Even when Jean Mill, a geneticist from California (USA), was mainly concerned with preserving the Asian Leopard Cat (ALC) more than 40 years ago, she laid the foundation stone for a new, unique breed.

In 1963, for the first time, she bred a female ALC with a black, short-haired domestic cat. Her breeding aims: to breed out feral behaviour and cement the special markings of the ALC. However, she gave up her breeding programme for personal reasons.

In the late 1970s, Dr. Willard Centerwall, a paediatrician and geneticist at the University of California, resumed the cross-breeding. At the time, he was researching the ALC's resistance to feline leukaemia, but needed confirmation that the ALC did not pass on this resistance to domestic cats. The resulting hybrids were adopted by Jean Mill and she recommenced her breeding endeavours.

The first Bengals appeared at shows in the 1980s. The public was impressed by the new breed of cat and the response was overwhelming. In 1985, Bengal cats were recognized by the US breeding association TICA.

However, the first few generations were still not really suitable as pets. The wildcat element was dominant, and as a result when they reached sexual maturity not only the males but also the females would often mark their territory. Preferring to "go" in water rather than in the litter tray is another sign that Bengals are still closely related to wild animals.

Today's Bengals are all pure-bred, which is to say that Bengals are mated only with other Bengals. The young born of these matings are completely tame and like to be cuddled. What remains, and is also desired, is a wild appearance like their forebears, and their unusual preference for water. Fortunately, however, they now use the litter tray.

The coat markings of Bengals are greatly varied and quite distinct from the majority of other breeds. The coat can be rosetted in blue, brown or silver, or spotted or marbled. One thing they all have in common is their extremely soft fur, which will also often have a golden glint. In sunlight, this "glitter" makes the Bengal look as though it is sprinkled with gold dust.

These spotted powerhouses don't just look remarkable, they are also remarkably intelligent and lively, and - when well-socialized - are incredibly people-friendly. They love to meet children and laid-back dogs and will happily play with them straight away. Quite simply, they will always be at the centre of the action. They are real escape artists and will discover the only opening in an outdoor enclosure within 20 minutes.

Although they are cuddly, accepting and extremely trusting as they are lying in our laps or on the sofa with us, they are also unbelievably energetic during the day. They will conquer the highest peak in the living room with their enormous jumping power, and unceremoniously sweep aside foolishly placed Murano or Swarowski glassware.

However, if you are prepared to give your Bengal cat plenty of time, attention and devotion, you will get what you want: an affectionate Mini-Leopard