Meet the designer cats with wild blood

This story is about small cats… …that look like big cats… and the people that made that possible. But before we get there, let’s back up a bit. We went to an event at the Westminster Dog Show and this year cats were invited. So we went to film them, and we weren’t the only ones. In the middle of a crowd there was a man,
holding his pet cat called a Bengal. That’s Anthony Hutcherson and his whole
life, he’s had one dream: “I always wanted a pet leopard, or a pet ocelot.” Wanting a pet ocelot might sound odd, but until recently owning an exotic cat was not unheard of. People had pet leopards and pet cheetahs and here’s Salvador Dali and his pet ocelot
named Babou. But exotic cats weren’t just for celebrities,
this family in Denver had a pet leopard. They named him Pasha. Growing up, Anthony found books about owning
a pet ocelot, and he was fascinated. “Fortunately the library was a little outdated
so there were still books from The Fifties” “and Sixties in my public school that said
things about having a pet ocelot, and made” “it seem normal…and I thought that could be me too!” But in the 1970s, authorities began restricting ownership and seizing exotic pets. So, instead of owning an ocelot, Anthony’s
dream became breeding a pet cat that looked just like one. He began after seeing a magazine at a grocery store, “At the checkout: like, alien spotted and
woman creates domestic cat that looks like” “leopard and so, I remembered it, and followed
up and found her, and called her.” The woman on the phone was Jean Mill, the
first American Bengal breeder. “At one point I remember saying to her,” ” ‘no, I can’t afford these cats, but I really want one, this is my dream.’ ” ” ‘ I really wanna do it.’ ” “I described to her in specific detail what
I wanted and she said,” ” ‘That cat doesn’t exist. I want that too.’ ’” Jean told Anthony about asian leopard cats:
a wild species native to Asia that was bred with a domestic cat in order to create a first
generation hybrid, called an “F1″, which is 50% wild, 50% domestic. Jean owned an F1, which she received from
Dr. Willard Centerwall, a scientist at Loma Linda University. Dr. Centerwall was breeding hybrid cats in
order to study their leukemia heredity factors, which could help in understanding and combatting
leukemia in human beings. But he only needed their genetic samples and once he bred the cats they needed homes, so that’s how Jean Mill received an F1 kitten in 1980. By breeding her F1 with a domestic cat, Jean
created second generation hybrids. But the males were sterile, so Jean could
only continue breeding through the female offspring. “And when they are four generations away
from the asian leopard cat, fertility is much” “more regular and, in terms of being able
to be shown and be considered a ‘domestic cat’,” “they have to be four generations away
from the asian leopard cat” *banging sound* “Sorry, that’s my cats running through the
room!” By reaching the fourth generation, Jean had
developed a new breed: the Bengal, which was officially recognized by The International
Cat Association in 1986. After his phone call with Jean, Anthony decided
to start breeding on his own, so he bought an F1 bengal and began attending cat shows. “This cat is awesome.” “For the future of the Bengals, I’d like
to see them” “move more in a direction toward looking wild.” “Being instantly identified as ‘oooooh.’ ” “But I want them to be as sweet, turn them
over on their side, or pull on their tail,” “or kiss them, if you have to.” *applause*” Over the years, Anthony’s goal hasn’t
changed. He’s continued to pursue it by carefully
selecting cats for his breeding program. “When I make that decision to breed them,” “I have an idea of what I think the kittens will look like” “and when they are born I try
to pick the one” “that looks the most like what I wanted it to look like.” “It’s like any good chef will probably tell you.” “it’s not adding a bunch of different stuff into a soup.” “It’s what you choose to add and how much and when you add it.” Choosing breeding partners to develop certain
traits is called “selective breeding”. “All cats are beautiful, but I’m not trying
to make all cats.” I’m trying to make a very specific cat.” A specific cat with qualities like rosettes,
the naturally occurring marks on leopards that he describes as a pattern, “…with that same spot that’s maybe black
or brown, and in the center of that spot is a color somewhere between, say yellow or orange-” You get the picture, Anthony knows what he
wants his cats to look like. But selective breeding can put animals at
risk if breeders pair close relatives. So to prevent inbreeding, owners like Vicki
Jeffers come to cat shows. Where they can exchange cats in order to develop new traits, like the shaggy coat we saw on this longhair Bengal. “If I bred her to Jefferson I might get
the beautiful tail and the nice ears” “and the kittens might get this wonderful pattern.” “So what you do is you look for traits in
cats that yours don’t have” “and you look at the pedigrees to be sure that you are not inbreeding too much.” To avoid inbreeding, breeders need a large
gene pool, which means breeding large numbers of cats. “People are convinced that there are too
many cats in the world” “and there are an awful lot of cats in rescue.” “And they say, ‘well, here you are breeding
superfluous cats” ” ‘when there are cats that are wanting for a home.’ ” “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.” Animals like Anthony’s cat Ovation. “Her name’s Ovation, she’s the greatest
cat in the world.” And while the development of bengals has taken
decades, other breeds are just getting started. This is a Savannah, which were developed by breeding domestic cats with a serval: a wild carnivore native to African savannahs. Unlike the Bengals, we found just a few cats at this booth. and that’s because the Savannah is a newer breed. The first F1 Savannah was born in 1986. So there are fewer late generation Savannahs compared to Bengals. A cat like this can cost over a thousand dollars. But earlier generations of Savannahs are even more expensive An F1 Savannah can cost upwards of $20,000
and owning one isn’t only expensive. It can be illegal, depending on local laws. In New York State, it’s legal to own a hybrid
as long as it’s sixth generation or later. But any generation of Savannah is illegal
in New York City. So even though these cats had a special exemption,
the cats we saw at this show– they’re technically illegal. And that’s a major reason why breeders come
to the show. By showing their cats, breeders hope to demonstrate
that hybrid species are just as safe as any other cat. But what if you aren’t into leopards, what
if you what you really want is a tiny tiger? This is Tony, one of Toygers we met. That’s Toyger for “toy” and “tiger”. This newer breed was created by Judy Sudden. And before you make any assumptions, NO, she
did not breed a tiger with a house cat. As feline geneticist Steven O’Brien explained
to me, that…wouldn’t work. “As the time has elapsed, the further apart
a species might be to another species,” “the less likely they will produce fertile offspring at all.” “The reason is evolution is a gradual process.” If you look at the cat family tree, you can
see that domestic cats and asian leopard cats separated from a common ancestor about 6 million years ago, which is about half the time that has passed since they separated from great cats, like lions and tigers. “It’s not exactly half, but it’s on that order.” “So there has been twice as much time for gene differences that inhibit compatibility.” “Which means that you are twice as likely to
have generated reproductive isolation,” “which just means it’s just not gonna work, Charlie.” “It’s just not gonna work.” It’s not gonna work means you can’t breed with tigers. So Judy Sugden created Toygers by selectively
breeding domestic cats. “…and so then you breed that kitten to another kitten…” As a result, there’s nothing wild about
these guys. “We just wanna go until…” “To make it reminiscent of a big cat.” “And so, on a tiger, the chin is big and kind of sticks out.” “Well, they are beautiful.” “Well, thank you very much” And while breeding a tiny tiger might seem
ambitious, Judy had help along the way. “I started breeding in the mid Eighties.” “My mother developed the bengal and that was
to look like a little leopard.” “So I said, as we were watching that thing
progress,” “Well maybe we need a little tiger!” Judy’s mother is Jean Mill. The first American Bengal breeder and Anthony Hutcherson’s mentor. It turns out, the world cat breeders is pretty small. Like Anthony, Judy has spent her entire life developing a new breed to resemble its wild counterpart. “His name is Tony.” And also like Anthony, she’s still pursuing
that goal. “What’s your name again?” -“Max” “Max. Anthony. I’m Anthony.” Because although you might think these cats already look like tiny tigers and little leopards, they see something we don’t. Something to improve. Something that will keep pushing them closer to that goal: the cat that they always dreamed of. “My motivation hasn’t changed.” “And…I went back to the public libraries and used bookstores and I bought those books.” “Because they inspired
me then and,” “in moments when I think my fellow breeders have no idea what they are doing” “or I question how many litter boxes I can clean in a day,” “I still flip through those
books and think,” “Well, I’m almost there.”

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