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Savannah

Savannah

Place of origin

Pennsylvania, United States

History

This popular hybrid breed is created through crossing the African serval (Leptailurus serval) with female domestic cats to produce a domestic cat resembling the serval. Early-generation cats are much tamer than similar generations of Bengals and are particularly popular as pets because of their unusually large size and wild look.

Despite rumors of earlier hybrids, the first documented serval–domestic hybrid was in 1986 when a sealpoint Siamese gave birth to a kitten fathered by a captive-bred pet male serval. Named Savannah, she inherited the serval's rangy body conformation, shortened tail, and black spotting, but on a grayish-brown background. Savannah was bred to a Turkish Angora male (male hybrids being infertile) and produced the F2 generation. A breed standard was created, and TICA recognized the Savannah breed in 2001.

Early breeders used the Bengal and Egyptian Mau to develop the breed. TICA permits outcrossing to the Egyptian Mau, Ocicat, Oriental Shorthair, and domestic shorthair. Some breeders have also used Maine Coons for size, introducing the recessive longhair gene by doing so. The serval has three color forms: melanistic, brown (usual), and white (with pale lilac spots), and some Savannah breeders have mimicked these by producing solid black and colorpointed Savannahs.

From F4 onward, Savannahs are considered domestic cats. Laws governing ownership of early-generation Savannahs in the United States vary, with some states and cities restricting the ownership of hybrid cats. In some Canadian provinces, the F1–F3 generation Savannahs cannot be owned as pets, and only TICA-registered Savannahs may be imported. The Savannah is prohibited in Australia where a risk assessment by the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre and DEWHA (the Australian government's environmental authority) class it as a risk to Australia's fragile environment.

In the United Kingdom, the keeping of F1 and F2 Savannahs is restricted under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act. The Department of Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) advises that F1–F4 hybrids require CITES paperwork for them to be imported. The GCCF will not recognize the Savannah because of its hybrid origins. In Continental Europe, imported early-generation Savannahs lacking appropriate paperwork have been seized by Customs officials.

A separate breeding program also aimed to replicate the look of the serval, but without hybridization. In the United States, the Serengeti was developed in 1994 by crossing Bengals and Oriental Shorthairs to produce a spotted cat with long legs and tall ears. TICA recognizes the Serengeti in spotted tabby (black spots on a tawny or golden background, known in the United Kingdom as leopard spotted), ebony silver, ebony smoke and solid black. Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, breeders crossed Bengals to both Siamese and Oriental Shorthairs, originally calling their serval-inspired cats "Savannahs." This name was changed to harmonize with the American-bred Serengeti and to avoid a clash with the Savannah hybrid. The British-bred Serengeti additionally has the "Snow Leopard" pattern resulting from Siamese parentage; this is not yet recognized by TICA. The American-bred Serengeti has larger ears due to the larger ears found in American Oriental Shorthairs.

Physical appearance

The Savannah is tall, lean, and graceful-often described as rangy-with exceptionally long legs, long neck, and tall ears and a medium-length tail. Hooded eyes add to the exotic appearance. Its striking spotted markings resemble a wild African serval.

Savannahs are a large domestic breed, and their long legs and neck give the impression of even greater size and weight. The F1 and F2 hybrids are larger and wilder-looking than the later generations, with hindquarters standing higher than their prominent shoulders and a relatively small head. Early generations are more likely than later generations to have ocelli (white spots) on the backs of the ears and dark "tear marks" from the corner of the eyes down the sides of the nose.

Colors and varieties

The TICA standard permits brown spotted tabby (black/dark brown markings on a tawny or gold background), silver spotted tabby (black/charcoal spots on a silver background), black/ melanistic (with ghost spotting), and black smoke (black spots on black-tipped silver background) only. These spotted patterns have dorsal stripes. Recessive genes means the Savannah variants occur in classic tabby and marble patterns, snow (colorpoint), and blue (blue spots on a paler blue-gray background). Although most breeders eliminated these from their breeding program, a few are selectively breeding Snow Savannahs because these resemble a rare natural mutation in the serval.

Temperament

The Savannah is a curious, assertive, and active cat who requires a lot of interaction from her owner. She is very loyal to her owners, often following her preferred person around, and is very affectionate although not a lap cat. Savannahs are sociable, playful, and often learn to play fetch with a favorite toy. Their inquisitive nature may mean catproofing parts of the house. They are also noted for their jumping ability. Many Savannahs enjoy playing in water, and some will join their owners in the shower! Savannahs can often be trained to walk on a leash.

Vocal level

Savannahs have a variety of vocalizations including chirps (like the serval) Bibleand sounds that are a mix of serval and domestic vocalizations. Their serval-like hiss is different from the domestic cat's hiss.

Activity level

Moderate to High

Special needs

Anecdotally, Savannahs may be sensitive to some types of medication, and some breeders state that ketamine is to be avoided in anesthesia and that only killed virus vaccines be used. Savannahs may require more taurine in the diet than other domestic breeds.

For those interested in breeding Savannahs, fertility appears to be a continuing challenge, even in later generations. Typical domestic cats rarely reach 20 pounds (9 kg), whereas servals are in the 30 to 40 pound (13.5–18 kg) range. Domestic female are sometimes killed accidentally as the serval male grips her neck during mating. A domestic cat pregnancy averages sixty-three days, but a serval pregnancy averages seventy-four days. Hybrid kittens are usually larger than pure domestic kittens. If born at sixty-three days, they are premature by serval standards and may need to be hand-reared.

Savannah

The Savannah breed was created by crossing domestic cats with African servals, such as the one shown here in Kenya's Masai Mara Park.

From The Cat Bible, Copyright by Sandy Robins, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with I-5 Press

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