Quite how the Bristol name got attached to a hybrid breed is unknown, because in April 1972 the developing breed was described in the now defunct American publication “Cats Magazine.” Possibly some wild blood was introduced between 1972 and the 1980s. Here is the description in full in the words of the breed’s originator.


bristol cat breed

The origins of the new breed which we call the Bristol Cat are rooted in a nondescript, many-colored cat who was adopted by a United States Army captain and his family during a stay in Australia. The cat (whose name I do not know) was so much loved by this family that they decided to bring her back when they returned to the United States. What they did not know was that she was bred before they left Australia. Some six weeks after she arrived in America she gave birth to two kittens - a little female as nondescript as her mother and a fine black male who was kept by the family. The little female was wanted by no-one and was destined for the animal shelter. Since we place many cats and kittens in homes, she was brought to our Havenwood Cattery where she stayed for many months. No one seemed to want her.

Merry Mary, as we came to call her, was sweet, lovable, remarkably intelligent and completely ugly. Her status as "unwanted” and her sunny disposition made us accept her as a "house cat’’ - a very special position around Havenwood. We found it easy to overlook her long lean oddly colored, striped and ticked body, her skinny, blunt-tipped tail, her unusually large wide-spaced ears when we looked into her clear, brilliant hazel eyes, and when she beguiled us with her winning manners and capacity to learn "play games. Later, when Merry Mary grew up and informed us she wanted to become a mother we mated her with a Burmese stud from the cattery, hoping in this manner to improve the physical appearance of her kittens and thus be able to find suitable homes for them. We intended to have her spayed after this one litter. However, the unusual-ness and beauty of many of the kittens from this litter caused us to subsequently breed her to another Burmese stud. It is out of these two breedings that the basic Bristol stock was derived. Since we have no idea of Merry Mary’s background, we cannot guess as to what breeds she owes her own characteristics.

The kittens from the original breedings have been bred back to both Chocolate- and Sealpoint Siamese to obtain the confirmation and color desired in the new breed. The line has now bred true for the past six generations. Bristol kittens are small replicas of the adult except that the deep chocolate color of the stripes and blotch are not achieved until the cat is about a year old. Eye color usually develops by about four months.

Perhaps the most enticing aspects of the Bristol are their pleasing disposition and truly remarkable intelligence. They are "people cats.” They exert themselves to please you and to gain your approval. Yet, they are not "lap” cats. Courageous and intelligent they gain your attention, your admiration and love. Their smooth chunky bodies and shining coats with lines and spots of deep chocolate on fawn remind one of a jungle cat, a domesticated jungle cat with a happy disposition!

No Bristols are yet available for purchase. However, many have been leased to selected families. More leasing will occur now that the breed is fairly well set and more kittens are available. Havenwood’s Diablo, Merry Mary’s grandson is the only Bristol who has been shown so far. He has consistently placed best or second best in AOV and Experimental Breed classes in California, Arizona and Nevada cat shows. This coming season several new Bristols will make their debut on the show scene.

Merry Mary is now a great-great-great-great grandmother. She has been spayed and spends most of her time supervising the training of her descendants. She is a “house cat.” The nursery is upstairs in the house. This is where she may usually be found, playing with the babies - licking them, teaching them tricks and games.

[Note: This sounds a little bit like the Australian Spotted Mist in its combination of Australian domestic cat and Burmese.]

The Bristol Cat Proposed Standard

Base color to be fawn with gray overtones fading to fawn on belly. Markings to be bittersweet chocolate on head, legs and tail, warmer chocolate color. All markings to be broken.

Medium massive body - overall impression to be that of a powerful cat - a domesticated jungle cat. Neck to be medium length and thick - again powerful. Chest broad and powerful. Head to be medium massive, but not to be short and cobby. Muzzle should be medium' length, with a firm jaw and chin. Chin and nose to meet in a straight line. Whiskers break desirable. Boning of the cat to be medium heavy.

Legs to be medium in length. Boning of legs to be in proportion to balance of body. Tail to be medium length and thickness. Tapering slightly from base to rounded tip.

Ears to be almost as broad at base as at tip. Tip is to be rounded and set slightly forward. Thumb print desirable.

Color of the eyes to be sea-green. Eyes to be forward in head, oval in shape with slight bias toward ears.

Stands in crouched position as in jungle cat about to strike.

Bristol "Hybrid" Breed

The hybrid Bristol breed was being developed in Texas during the 1980s using a small South American wild cat (believed to be a Margay) and domestic cats. As a breed, the rosetted Bristol predated the Bengal breed, but unlike the Bengal, it died out due to infertility problems. The wild parent was most likely the Margay, although the similar-looking Ocelot can also breed with domestic cats. Breed books and articles of the 1980s reported the Bristol as a Margay hybrid. The existence of the breed was never very widely known; they were mentioned in passing in probably only one breed book (late 1980s) and the one person I spoke to who had seen them described them as having black rosettes on an orange background.

In 1991, Solveig Pflueger, TICA's geneticist, heard of some cats housed at a private residence in Texas. These were registered with TICA as "Bristol Cats" - a breed believed to be extinct through infertility. The colony numbered about 10 cats and its sire was Cajun, who was then quite old. The colony was not very fertile, averaging 2 litters per year. Cajun's rosettes resembled those of an ocelot or margay and he was believed to be an ocelot, margay or oncilla (Tiger Cat) hybrid, with Margay being the most likely (to further confuse matters, the Margay is also known as the Tree Ocelot).

Cajun had a very white ground colour on his chest and belly, very small and rounded ears, and a voice like that of an ocelot. Investigation unearthed photos of an ocelot-type cat mating with a domestic shorthair. Though less striking, the other cats were also clearly hybrids. Some had the black smoky charcoal colour that sometimes appears in F1 and F2 Bengals. Although described as the sire of the colony, the sterility of F1, F2 and (usually) F3 males, means Cajun should not have been able to sire offspring at all. It's not clear whether Cajun was siring any offspring or whether his female relatives were being outcrossed, and to what. Most of the Bristols found were beyond breeding age.

Two Bristol females were young enough to be used in breeding and were placed in Bengal breeding programmes; one with Gogees and the other (Sugarfoot) with Belltown. Belltown Sugarfoot produced several Bengal/Bristol litters and one of those kittens was incorporated into the Gogees line. The cats bearing Bristol blood inherited a more robust type, small ears and good rosetting. Proper management meant the problem of infertility was overcome and the Bengal gene pool was enhanced. Several Bengal breeders have lines that go back to Bristol/Bengal crosses. DNA tests may determine the identity of the Bristol's wild ancestor from genetic markers.

While the Bristol hybrid breed has been lost, some of the genes have been preserved in the Bengal breed. South American wildcat x domestic hybrids seem to have poor fertility, even among females, and this has also affected Oncilla hybrids and Geoffroy’s Cat hybrids (Safari).

In the 1980s there was considerable interest in hybrids. The Safari had already been bred and the Bengal was about to take the cat fancy by storm. How far back interest went in Margay or ocelot hybrids isn't known, but in the Long Island Ocelot Club Newsletter (LIOC) of Sept 1962, Mr and Mrs Tom MacBean wrote "Incidentally, I know of a cross-breeding of a margay with a domestic cat which I think is rather interesting, This was accomplished accidentally by the arrival of a male margay on a farm belonging to my friend here in Puerto Vallarta who had several cats keeping down the rat population. The margay mated with one of the females: two of the kittens had all the margay markings and one looked, as my friend said, most peculiar. "

Reason for loss: infertility and inbreeding


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