USFW: Recognize the Bengal breed as domestic cats.
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On October 28th, 2016 the US Fish & Wildlife seized 3 domestic Bengal cats for illegal importation into the US. These cats were not first generation crosses, but domestic cats with just a tiny fraction of any Asian Leopard Cat in either pedigree or genome. This is not the first time that agents within the USFW service have chosen to interpret the law in this manner. As it stands, breeders who want to legally import or export cats, or even show cats out of the country, must follow the rules for wildlife. This includes import/ export license, port exemptions, filing e-declarations, scheduling agent inspections, and of course paying for each of these. These cats are domestic companions, just like a Persian or a Siamese. Please help us change the interpretation of US Fish & Wildlife of US law, by petitioning the Department of the Interior, Inspector General who oversees the USFW. Currently several breeders are working with a leading animal law attorney in Washington, DC to effect change, but the breed can use all the help it can get to resolve this issue. It will very likely take political, legislative and judicial action, to change this.
There should not even be a legal basis for USFW's policy against the Bengal breed. Animal Welfare Act defines what is domestic and what is wild for federal regulation. Domestic animals are the specific jurisdiction of USDA and APHIS for import/export. US Fish & Wildlife Service charter very specifically excludes domestic animals from its jurisdiction. The agency's purpose is to protect wildlife.The Endangered Species Act defines what a species is for USFW jurisdiction. Bengal Cats are domestic as they produce fertile offspring in both sexes when bred to other domestic cats. Although CITES regulates the Asian Leopard Cats, the convention states after four generations from a controlled species the offspring should no longer be controlled. SBT Bengal cats meet that standard.
For much of the breed's history, they have faced discrimination by the USFW for reasons that go against both international law and modern science. Science classifies a hybrid as being exclusively a cross between species, USFW classifies all generations following such a cross as being half wildcat and half domestic. Considering today's geneticists state that the Bengal averages roughly 3.5% relation to the wildcat, this proves quite inaccurate. Unlike US law, international law (CITES) classifies the Bengal breed as being "domestic" after more than five generations from those ancestors.
But the issues the Bengal breed currently face with the USFW go beyond just their relation back to the hybrid. Over the years, there has been a lot of confusion as to the importation and exportation policy here in the United States. Some cats were sent out of the country as domestic cats (which they are) and as a result many of these cats were placed on an alleged "illegal list" which the same agency denies its existence publicly. Compounding matters, the agency has admitted to using unverified third party pedigree databases as a resource to go further than the required certified cat association's five generation pedigrees and use this unverified information as justification to seize these beautiful cats. The justification USFW has given those protesting their policy the following explanation, "The Bengal cat, as well as the other types of exotic cat hybrids in race such as the savannah, bristol, Safari, and Chausie, is not considered a domesticated cat because all of these hybrids are crossed with other protected cat species and, by breeding, are morphologically indistinguishable from specimens removed from the wild." In short, SBT companion bengal cats look exactly the same as first generation Bengal x Asian Leopard Cat hybrids. Anyone involved in breeding these cats knows that it simply not true.
Bengal cats are one of the world's most popular breeds and just like the Persian and Siamese are considered domestic companions. They are lovable, high energy and are bred to RESEMBLE a wild, forest dwelling feline. These cats are stars in the show ring, are easily handled, and possess a sweet temperament. They are featured on domestic cat food bags, television shows such as Martha Stewart, John Oliver's Last Week Tonight. The breed gets along well with dogs, kids, and loves to be with their human family. They are absolutely NOT wildlife.
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