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The 16 Year Opus magnum: How we are changing the Bengal breed

Updated: Feb 23, 2022

After 16 years of collaborated work, my mentor's opus magnum has been achieved. He spent 12 years on this idea that would change the Bengal breed for the better. Along with other seasoned breeders such as Karen Madden of Cavscout Bengals and Leslie Pool of Amazon Bengals, I was brought in on the project officially in January of 2018. This year on February 2, 2021 marks the end (or start depending on how you look at it) of 4 years of dedicated work on this wonderful project (16 years total including Joshua's work) so I decided to conduct an interview with my mentor Joshua Dabbs of Rowan Bengals, one of the forefront breeders on this project. Joshua started breeding in 2005, introduced to the breed by his wife at the time and her father, Clark's breeding program. When Clark passed away Joshua took over the Companion Bengals program. Joshua bred for 12.5 years primarily focusing on Silver bengals. He was active in the show hall until his daughter was born but sported many high titled cats. He also is a major contributor to articles and information on Silver Bengals as well as APb and the Charcoal expression.

A little back history....

One of the biggest challenges of silver breeding is that in order to breed silvers correctly, you essentially have to establish a gene pool within a given breed to allow for silver to silver breeding. [The Silver gene pool is quite small, tracing back to a single silver female]. This isn't for some elitist reasoning, it's more about practicality.

Unlike with browns were you get the correct coloration with pretty much every kitten, with silvers... it's very specific. You need pigment density and that takes selection on top of [coloration and] breeding lines together which both have that same trait. Only once you're able to lock the feature in both sides can you produce 100% consistency.

CH Rowan Valhalla

[Unfortunately silvers also battle with] tarnish, it literally takes

QGC Rowan Valkyrie

breeding two silvers together and selecting the offspring with the least amount of tarnish. Doing that repeatedly over generations ultimately yields less and less tarnish until it's eliminated. But with Bengals, most breeders take silvers and breed them to their browns which reintroduces tarnish from [the] browns' warm tones.

[Furthermore] browns may lack that specific pigment density [we are looking for], so you end up with soft-silvers very easily [those that are grey on grey with fading markings]. A few generations of chaotic breeding [such as this] can undo generations of work. It's incredibly frustrating for silver [focused] breeders.

Rowan Frozen Flame Photo by Meghan Waals

So something had to change and new strategies had to be employed to get the silvers on track.

How long were you breeding before you decided to outcross? How did you develop the idea?

It's a bit of a story, actually.

I started breeding in 2005, but unlike a lot of breeders who get their start by taking an interest and falling in love with the Bengal breed, my (now) ex-wife's family had been breeding Bengals for six years before I even came into the picture.

Around the winter of my first year, a breeder friend of my in-law's sent them a silver spotted male kitten to breed to their girls. At that point, I found the silver interesting and very different from the browns that my in-law's breeding program was comprised of.

As it turned out, the silver kitten was a soft-silver and didn't produce well bred to the brown queens. Tarnished and faded silvers didn't seem anything like the photographs of those gorgeous silvers I had seen other breeders have. It was that experience which prompted me to start doing research into silver genetics and ultimately figuring out exactly how to produce better silver kittens.

I started to search online for whatever information I could find to better help me understand

Eeyaa Sterling Silver of Silvergene Photo by Linda Evans

the silver color and ultimately I started studying pedigrees and putting pictures with them. By tracking the pedigrees of the early silver lines I was able to figure out that a lot of the popular silver lines were still very close to the Eeyaa Sterling Silver outcross line that Judy Sugden (Eeyaa) and Linda Evans (Silvergene) developed. Eeyaa Sterling Silver was a grandchild of an [American Short Hair] (ASH), and her children ultimately perpetuated the silver color in the breed.

OD SGC TheRealms Jewely of Rowan Bengals Photo by Helmi Flick
Photo by Helmi Flick

I realized fairly early on that a lot of the traits specific to the silver, specifically the lack of roufism (warm tones) and the dense black pigmentation came from the American Shorthair. I was very fortunate to be offered a Silvergene Captain Picard daughter, my OD SGC TheRealms Jewely. I still remember how excited I got the moment Lydia Wright (TheRealms) told me her pedigree. It was a big deal for me to have a cat so close to those original silver lines and Jewely was from Jean Luc's last litter. Jewely ended up being the cornerstone of my breeding program for many years and I spent a good deal of my initial years trying to bring in other silver lines that could further lock in a lot of those silver-specific traits.

Unfortunately, time wasn't kind to the silver color. As those initial silver lines from Silvergene got older, the traits that were specific to them started to diminish. Instead of seeing contrasted and mostly untarnished silvers, we began to see more and more faded silvers with warm tones. And as such, many silver lines began to disappear.

By 2009, I realized that without developing new silver outcrosses to solidify those traits specific to the silver, either the silver color would diminish or be bred back to the same bloodlines over and over leading to higher inbreeding coefficients and defects. It was around that time I started planning out my own outcross.

I was fortunate in that I was fairly popular in the show circuit and friends with an American

Shorthair Breeder (Erin Russell/Pam Maddox of Russellers ASH). I remember in early 2010, at a show in Huntsville, Alabama watching one of Erin's silver classic tabby ASH kittens judged and telling her that her kitten's color is what I would like to see in silver Bengals and hinted at being interested in an outcross. Both the judge and Erin were in agreement. Two years later, I was able to get a kitten from that very same ASH I saw in show that day.

Around the same time, I became vocal among breeder groups about the need for silver outcrosses to insure that the silver bloodlines stay healthy and maintain traits important to them.A breeder friend took my words seriously, and she got on board with those same ideas. Leslie Pool of Amazon Bengals reached out to an Egyptian Mau breeder and was able to purchase a male for her outcross.We later exchanged AON kittens from our respective outcrosses.

Why did you want to work with domestic outcrosses versus Early Generation or Asian Leopard Cats?

Though I most certainly recognize the beauty and awe that the Asian Leopard Cat and Early Generations inspire, I didn't feel that utilizing either would be beneficial to what I was aiming for in an outcross.

Though it's certainly true that the ALC produces amazing type, there are a lot of challenges that go along with developing a bloodline from an EG. Fertility and temperament challenges were the two deciding factors for me to not pursue this, however I have encouraged others to try.

I remember back in the early 2000s Robert Torquato developed his own ALC/ASH outcross line, unfortunately I don't think anything ever became of that line and his efforts.

Another thing to remember is that traits specific to the silver aren't from the ALC, it's something selectively breed in breeds like the American Shorthair and Egyptian Mau.

Most people use one breed why did you decide on two? How did you decide on these two breeds? Are there others you would consider?

Top is Rowan Unexpected Development (AON Bengal x ASH) next to her is her dad CH Leopardspride Sessrumnir of Rowan. Below him is her mom DGC Russellers Silver Dynasty of Rowan (ASH) The bottom is dad Amazonbengals Silver Aeon of Rowan (AON Bengal x Egyptian Mau). Next to him is his grandfather RW SGC Southlynn Vanilla Fudge Ripple and below him is Aeon’s mother Southlynn Va Latte.

That comes down to a decent understanding of pedigree and statistics.

Statistically speaking, a kitten born from crossing Bengal to ASH has 50% of their genetics from the ASH and that percentage halves each generation bred to Bengal after. By the time a bloodline reaches fourth generation, only 6.25% of the ASH genetics remain.

Through selection, we can aim to maintain those traits important to the silver, but it's going to be a challenge.

Alternatively, you can choose to line breed the silver outcross to itself in order to increase that percentage or you could do multiple outcrosses simultaneously with the intention of combining the lines together which allow for greater genetic diversity.

To me, it just made sense to use multiple outcrosses.

I chose the ASH because it's a relatively healthy breed whose body type transitions well when bred to Bengals. The head type does take a generation or two to work around, but that's where good selection comes in.

Leslie Pool choose the Egyptian Mau because she wanted to maintain a head and body type similar to what was already in Bengals.

So in some ways, the two different breeds compliment each other in their strengths and weaknesses. How did you convince the Egyptian Mau and American Short Hair Breeders to sell you a cat for this project?

You'll have to talk to Leslie about the Mau. But for me, I knew Erin and Pam (Russellers) from the show circuit and I was honest with them. It probably helped that I also promised to show the kitten. My ASH kitten, Russellers Silver Dynasty was shown to Double Grand Champion.

Is there anything you would do differently?

Given the opportunity, I would develop additional ASH outcross bloodlines to further strengthen the genetic diversity of the outcross bloodlines being developed.

By creating additional silver bloodlines, we give ourselves more opportunities to develop the silver without having to rely heavily upon non-silver bloodlines.

Breeding silver to silver exclusively allows breeders to lock in traits specific to the color and improve quality overall. Being able to do that without having silver lines with heavy genetic relations to one another is a struggle.

The more lines, the merrier.

Are others involved in this project too?

Over the years, there have been several breeders who have taken an interest in the outcross project. Unfortunately many since retired from breeding.

Leslie Pool of Amazon Bengals is the one who has contributed the most to the outcross project early on. But there were several others who took early outcross bloodlines into their own programs to develop silver lines specific to them. I hold out hope that these will develop into unique silver bloodlines over the course of the next few decades.

That's one of the key points I make when I talk about taking a new outcross and sending the bloodlines out early to breeders to develop independently. Yes, most likely those breeders aren't going to have as strong of silver lines, but it's the traits that the outcross carries and produces which can then be perpetuated into a larger breed-wide gene pool which can then be worked into other existing and developing silver lines.

The effectiveness of an outcross can be expanded upon by a willingness to share the bloodline with other breeders. But yes, getting breeders on board is difficult. Leslie Pool [Amazon Bengals], Amy Holland-Martin [BengalTherapy], Karen Madden [Cavscout Bengals] and Diane Cumming [ValleyKatz] were the four that were able to branch off and develop their own silver bloodlines.

When should a breeder consider an outcross?

That really just comes down to the individual breeder and their breeding program. An outcross takes years to accomplish and for most breeders, the idea of four or more generations of breeding your own bloodlines isn't feasible. So it's not something for most breeders, but for those who are in it for the long haul and have a passion for progressive breeding, it's an interesting project to start. Especially if you have many like minded friends willing to develop the bloodlines together.

One thing to remember about an outcross is that aside from the initial outcross breed used, you have four generations of different preexisting Bengal lines also used in any given outcross project. If one were proactive enough to realize it early on and send out multiple early generations (AONs & BONs) to be developed independently from the project you're personally working on, you can add in generations of different bloodlines and establish "different" outcross lines even if they originate from the initial ASH. After all, 93.75% is Bengal by the fourth generation. Why not play on that?

Can you detail the evolution of your outcross lines. Did you have several, you obviously had a few that culminated into my Maeve and Cayde pairings. How did you plan? Who were the main players?

It started out with two main goals: helping to solidify desired traits specific to the silver color and doing so without having health issues. Outcrossing to the ASH did that, but the addition of the Egyptian Mau bloodlines helped further that along and between the two of them, I was able to shape a rough breeding plan for a few generations.

As breeders know though, things don't always go according to plan. So I had to rewrite my plans a time or two along the way, but it worked out really well.

Originally, I didn't see a way to have as high of a percentage of outcross genetics in the later generations so it would've relied heavily upon breeder selection, but that changed rather quickly. I'm sure many of us are happy with the results as they are now, I certainly am.

Originally the plan was to take the ASH and find a Bengal line that was the least related to the Silvergene bloodlines and to develop an outcross from that.

Rummi Photo by Helmi Flick

When Sherri Ditto offered me Leopardspride Sessrumnir as a kitten, I happily accepted. "Rummi's" pedigree was from older California bloodlines that aren't as common in the pedigrees I saw at the time as such, I felt that it would be an excellent addition. Around the same time, Leslie Pool of AmazonBengals did her own outcross using the Egyptian Mau and were able to share bloodlines between our outcrosses.

I specifically chose a cross between her

IW SGC Suwannee Fudge Ripple

Egyptian Mau male and a SLP [seal lynx point] marble female from Southlynn bloodlines, these too were very old bloodlines by today's standards. Suwannee Fudge Ripple was a big name in the early 2000's in the show hall, but what made his bloodline through his children and grandchildren so special was that they were exceptionally dark and had little warm tones to them and knowing the lines were old enough to be separate from a lot of existing silver lines meant that it would contribute to diversity in the later generations.

At the time, my biggest goal was to create a silver line that wasn't heavily connected to existing silvers so that when it finally reached a later generation, it would be able to pair to those existing silver lines and produce well. And from what I've seen so far, it's done exactly that. So that's a big win.

Aeon Photos by Helmi Flick

Now as for other plans, "Aeon" my AON male from Leslie did sneak in and breed with my Dynasty (my ASH girl) and that kind of threw a wrench in my time schedule. However, she produced a spotted male that had an exceptional body and a head type that was very good for a kitten that was only 1/4 Bengal. He had tiny Mau spots, so we ended up just calling

him "Spot", on paper he became known as Rowan Silver Fusion. So I decided I'd work that into my plans and did an experimental pairing to one of my silver spotted girls [Rowan Frozen Flame aka "Zen"].

Rowan Frozen Flame and Rowan Silver Fusion Pictures by Joshua Dabbs

Maeve Photo by Meghan Waals

That combination between lines produced so exceptionally well that I ended up rewriting my breeding plans to include it. That's the pairing that produced Maeve (Rowan Maverick By Design) and honestly, she is probably the very best BON I've produced. Combining Maeve into the existing plan that produced Cayde became a goal for me and I'm genuinely happy to see that progress is happening even now.

Elysian Genestealer "Cayde" Photo by Meghan Waals

At first, it was just me. Take it from experience, we can learn a lot from just looking over pedigrees and photos. Added to firsthand breeding experiences, there's a lot of knowledge you can glean with patience and an open mind.

Years ago though, there were several well known breeders who advocated against breeding silver to silver, they believed that doing so would irreparably damage our breed. Fortunately, that's actually far from the truth. Thanks to a little something called "genetic drift", developing bloodlines independently for long enough leads to greater genetic diversity once those lines are paired back to one another. But I'm digressing.

Though I'm not always the best at communicating myself to others, I find a few kindred spirits. Leslie Pool of AmazonBengals, Sherri Ditto of Leopardspride, Karen Cavscout of Cavscout Bengals, Amy Holland of Bengal Therapy, Diane Cumming of Valleykatz, Lori Denley of Sakura Bengals, and not to mention you, Meghan!! Leslie and I did the most initial work on the outcross. She managed to wrangle in two Maus and I was very strategic with my ASH babies, placing them in multiple breeding programs. In my mind, those early outcrosses were pure potential and could develop into their own outcross bloodline by the 4th generation if the breeders were diligent.

It's hard to say which of those lines have born fruit, but many are still out there and in the hands of other breeders now with the same goals in mind.

I am of the belief that even now, if we as breeders can see the potential these lines have and can bring it out with their own pairings, there is so much to look forward to in the coming years.

Why did you choose me to continue your work?

Simple. You're you, Meghan. There are times when I felt like a mad scientist with this outcross project, inbreeding coefficients and breeding plans. Few breeders have that patience, understanding and passion as you have. Retiring from breeding as I have, I felt that my legacy would have its best chance of continuing in your hands. You've proven me right.

What now?

As I am currently on hiatus from breeding (likely indefinitely), all I can do is just sit back and watch progress happen. As we often see in breeding, there will be many breeding programs rising and falling over the years and I am hopeful that many will have a better grasp of silver genetics and breeder knowhow to push the coloration to the next level. I'm hoping that the articles I've written and the breeders I've helped mentor and befriend make that happen.


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