The Leopard That Does Change His Spots

By Gene Johnson

Reprinted from The Bengal Bulletin, March 1994

You've heard the cliche; "What you see is what you get", those of us who have raised Bengal kittens know this is not necessarily so. Each breeder becomes familiar with his own line, and acquires the experience to know what to expect from each cat.

At birth, kittens may have magnificent markings, but quickly lose color and contrast as they become fuzzier. Different bloodlines experience the "fuzzy uglies" at different stages, some get it worse than others. Some lines may produce kittens that lose color for several months; some may be born with it and never loose it. The question is, however, what the individual kittens will look like at maturity and if they can reproduce the same.

For instance, there may be a very orange kitten that is stunning at 6 weeks or even 6 months. But at 2 or 3 years, his spots may fade to the point that they are barely detectable, especially if there is excessive ticking. I think it is significant. We cannot concentrate so much on just producing pretty kittens. We must take into consideration what the cat will look like for the rest of his life.

I think the black-spotted kittens are the ugly-duckling, not being as flashy as golden kittens. Their ground color takes longer to develop, but in the long run result in a cat with more pronouced markings. This is just my opinion. I base this not only on observation of my kittens, but also on the cats I have seen being shown and the photographs I have received from Bengal owners.

For another example, we have all had kittens that exhibit two-tones and rosetted spots. At 4-8 months, they look spectacular. Somehow, though, with maturity, the markings begin to blend and fade. But show me an adult at 2 or 3 years old with clear defined rosetting--then I'll be impressed. If the ticking obscures the pattern, whether it be rosetted or single spots, the effect is lost. Kitten photos do not tell the whole story.

By the same token, we see spectacular markings on the F1 and F2 Foundation cats . Show me an F6 with their markings. To be able to recreate these features through the generations--that is the ultimate.

This is not to say that all rosetted cats lose their markings, or that all sorrel kittens fade out. I have used these as examples only. I have seen many sorrels retain excellent contrast, and I have seen cats keep their two-toned spots.

Besides the physical traits, we must not forget that our goal is to produce domestic cats that only LOOK wild. We must not sell pets that are cute and cuddly as kittens, but have so much wild blood that they become unmanageable as adults. These cats are not meant to be shown either. Cats from other breeds can have a "bad day", but a Bengal that misbehaves in the show ring is talked about for months. I know of a cat (another breed) that won International awards-- the cat is so nasty, the owner is required to take it in and out of the cage and must stand by during judging. He is considered to be" grumpy". Unfair? Yes, but "CE'la vie".

I urge breeders to keep in mind the cat their beautiful kitten will become. This has got to be a priority in our breeding program. We don't want to have to apologize for what they become. We want qualities that can be perpetuated through the generations and that endure throughout the cats' lifetimes. We don't want to sell spectacular kittens as show quality that will fade out or "change spots" when they hit Championship age.

Unrelated to changing spots, there is another consideration in the manner we represent our cats. We cannot mislead potential buyers by suggesting that the Bengals (4 or more generations from the ALC) will have the wild appearance of the 1st and 2nd generation foundation cats. By the same token, we cannot claim that the earlier generations will have the gentle dependable personalities of the later generation Bengals. In both cases, there will be exceptions of course, but we can make no guarantees.


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