by Jean S. Mill
This issue of the Bengal Bulletin (Foundation Look Book) is a classic on several levels. It awes us with stunning pictures showing the breathtaking beauty of the individual Asian Leopard Cats that underlie the Bengal breed of domestic cat. It also documents some of the appearance differences in the bloodlines each has initiated. These photos help us to realize that not all leopard cats have heavy whisker pads, or rosetted coats, or short fur, nor even rufous coloration. All are beautiful, and the photos give us an opportunity to become better acquainted with the characteristics deemed valuable by our standard.
These photos also underline the reasons why the ALC cannot be used as the yardstick by which we measure our evolving domestic breed. Since they differ from one another, one would have to ask, "Which leopard cat?" "Which characteristics?" shall we emulate. And it is apparent that there must be some visable features in Bengals which distinguish them from their wild ancestors, for the sake of judges in the show rings, veterinarians, as well as government officials charged with regulating the wild species. Would you feel comfortable lifting a strange animal that looks EXACTLY like a wolf, trusting your flesh to a stranger's assurance that it is a dog and NOT a pure wolf?? Furthermore, none of the leopard cats pictured boasts a glittered coat, nor the ultra-soft pelt that Delhi contributed and that we prize so highly in our breed. In fact, there are now SBT Bengals that many observers might deem MORE beautiful than a pure ALC.
Thirdly, these photos make it obvious that we have a very wide genepool already contributing to our breed; genes indigenous to wide geographical origins as well as genes of very different character. In truth, we probably have the widest genetic diversity within our breed of any domestic breed in existance. Indeed, even our varied domestic contributors included Tory of Delhi from half way around the world!! It is a wonder that we have been able to derive bloodlines in so few years that breed pretty much true to form.
These first two decades of effort have been exciting through working closely with the beautiful foundation generations. Together, we have learned a great deal about Bengal inheritance, much of it by trial and error. The next decades should see a concentration on producing the sweet tempered SBT Bengals that we aspire to, showing close approximation to our standard. Originally the challenge lay in producing any hybrids at all; then it became to isolate and replicate the genes we sought from the foundation cats. Now the challenge lies in carrying those genes down from the ALC to 4th, 10th, and 20th generations without losing 'the look'. It is easy to produce gorgeous F1s and F2s; but not so easy to have healthy, equally spectacular F6s! Thus, the most important Bengals now are those we see at the shows, for they are helping to meet that challenge at the SBT level. Why would anyone want to go back to square one to make more F1s? By the time today's baby F1 has great grandchildren for the show ring, the breed will already be there with stunning little 'ocelots'. All the time, money, difficulty, and tragedy of producing the new bloodline will not be worth it. One would be wiser to invest those many thousands of dollars NOW in the best SBT kittens available and to join the excitement of producing the best and sweetest at today's shows!! Push a pencil and see: first you must buy the ALC and hope that it will sire hybrid kittens. ($5000?) Then, if it costs about $100 to keep a cat a year (1999), it will cost about $1000 to rear the ALC to adulthood and keep him his lifetime. It will cost another $1000 to keep the F1 female for her 10 year lifetime. It will cost the same $1000 to keep the F2 female; and another $1000 to keep the F3 female. Add to this your own time in caring for them ($10/day for 4 years = $14,600) plus vet bills. You will sell a few kittens during this time, but foundation queens don't have many kittens,.. not like the SBTs do. If instead you started with top SBTs and spent the same upkeep money, you could be 4 years further toward our goal, would have a name in the show rings, and would have sold many more top kittens. Or profit from someone else's efforts and buy an F2 or F3 female from well-chosen ancestry to save yourself time, effort, and tears.
We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to these beautiful ALC contributors to our breed. But for every ALC that has contributed, there have been many others that were fed and housed and cared for that never produced hybrids at all. I myself have owned nearly a dozen! There were many F1 queens that have no progeny in our genepool, and many F2s as well that failed to replicate themselves. These were all dead-end efforts but represent several years of care per cat leading to disappointment. This Bengal Bulletin celebrates our enormous successes, won at great cost. It inspires us and points the way to even greater successes with the SBTs that follow.
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Thank You Jean Mill for the wonderful breed you developed!