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Outside/In: A Cat Fancy

Jungletrax Bengal Cats, with permission
Prestige, Anthony Hutcherson's award-winning Bengal

The Bengal cat is an attempt to preserve the image of a leopard in the body of a house cat: using a wild animal’s genes to get the appearance, while leaving out the wild animal personality. But is it possible to isolate the parts of a wild animal that you like, and forgo the parts that you don’t?

Can you have your leopard rosette and your little cat too?

This episode was originally published in 2018.

The Bengal is a striking creature: big for a house cat, muscular with wide paws, rounded ears, and, most importantly, rosettes: no mere spots, but pale markings with a dark outline. Essentially, leopard print.

Bengals look like little leopards, which is precisely the point. The breed is the result of a hybridization between the domesticated housecat and the wild Asian Leopard Cat. Within TICA, The International Cat Association, the breed standard stipulates that "the goal of the Bengal breeding program is to create a domestic cat which has physical features distinctive to the small forest-dwelling wildcats, and with the loving, dependable temperament of the domestic cat."

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"The feelings that you get from being in the same room, sharing the same air, or that moment where you caress your hand down the back of an animal that looks wild. It kind of transcends time and space and reminds you why people wanted domestic animals to begin with," said Anthony Hutcherson, owner of Jungletrax Bengal cats and chair of TICA’s Bengal Cat Breed section.

The story of the Bengal cat reveals insights about the murky boundaries around a breed, or even a species, and what domestication really means. It’s a story about the pursuit of the wild in the 21st century.

Featuring Anthony Hutcherson, Denise Eckhart, Abigail Tucker, Melinda Zeder, and Tammy Thies.

For the full text of this story, visit the original Outside/In episode post.

Further Reading

“Living Room Leopards” by Ariel Levy in The New Yorker

Justine Paradis is a producer and reporter for NHPR's Creative Production Unit, most oftenOutside/In. Before NHPR, she produced Millennial podcast from Radiotopia, contributed to podcasts including Love + Radio, and reported for WCAI & WGBH from her hometown of Nantucket island.
Outside/In is NHPR's podcast about the natural world and how we use it. Click here for podcast episodes and more.

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