The first Bengal came about as a stroke of luck in 1961. Jean Mill, a young geneticist living in Arizona, who was passionate about cats imported a female leopard cat from Asia which she called Malaysia. So that she didn’t get bored alone in her cage, Jean got a male American Shorthair to keep her company. Against all odds, the unlikely couple gave birth to two hybrid kittens: one male, which was killed by its mother and a young female called Kin-Kin. Amazed by the beauty of the latter, Jean decided to continue the experiment by mating her with her father, the only male available at the time. Two kittens were born out of this union. Then, a series of unfortunate accidents wiped out the whole small family, destroying Jean’s hopes and expectations.
Jean’s dream was put on hold for a few years… And then resurfaced at the start of the 70s. At the time, she met Doctor William Centerwall, who was studying the Asian leopard cat for its immunity to FeLV (feline leukemia). This work got him to mixing this small feline with domestic cats in order to determine whether the immunity could be passed on genetically. It was established that this wasn’t possible. These studies were abandoned with the emergence of a vaccine against FeLV and 8 female hybrids from this programme were given to Jean in 1980.