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Meet the designer cats with wild blood

Bengals, Savannahs and Toygers, explained.

For several decades, cat breeders have been working to develop a pet cat with the appearance of a wild feline, such as a leopard or tiger, but the temperament of a domestic tabby. Some breeds, such as the Bengal and Savannah, were developed by breeding domestics with other species to create hybrid cats. Other breeds, like the Toyger, were created from selectively breeding domestic species. In both instances, the process has been complicated and continues to this day.

As Bengal breeder Anthony Hutcherson sums up in this video, “All cats are beautiful, but I’m not trying to make all cats. I’m trying to make a specific cat.” For Anthony, that means a specific cat with qualities that replicate the exotic patterns found on leopards, ocelots, and other wild species. In order to develop those qualities, breeders have bred domestic cats with other feline species, such as the Asian leopard cat and the serval.

Bengal breeder Anthony Hutcherson holding his pet cats.
Getty Images

Scientists have created hybrid species, too, to study their perceived resistance to feline leukemia. By understanding how cats are affected by leukemia heredity factors, scientists hoped to develop treatments for “understanding and combatting leukemia in human beings.” After they were bred for research, early generation hybrids were then given as pets to breeders who used them to create “little leopards.”

In the years since, breeders have continued to work toward their goal, while animal rights activists question the ethics of the breeding process. As Bengal breeder Vicki Jeffers notes, “People are convinced that there are too many cats in the world, and there are an awful lot of cats in rescue. … And, I mean, they have a point. They have an important point. But if you look at these cats, they justify the breeding because they are just wonderful, wonderful animals.”

To learn more and to see the cats for yourself, watch the video above.

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