Country of origin: United States
Bengal breeder Judee Frank managed to crossbreed a Serval and domestic cat, producing the first Savannah (named Savannah) on April 7, 1986. Judee Frank’s Savannah attracted the interest of Patrick Kelly, who had been interested in exotic looking domestic cats for many years and purchased one of Savannah's kittens in 1989. Patrick Kelly’s enthusiasm and vision for establishing a new domestic breed based on the Serval / domestic Cat cross prompted him to research what steps would be needed to be recognized and accepted by an official feline registry. Armed with that information, obtained from Leslie Bowers at TICA, Patrick approached numerous breeders of Servals and encouraged them to attempt the development of this new breed. Initially, no breeders were interested. But Patrick persisted and finally convinced one breeder, Joyce Sroufe, to join him in founding the Savannah breed.
Savannahs are considered one of the larger breeds of domesticated cats. Their tall and slim build gives Savannahs the appearance of greater size than their actual weight. F1 hybrid and F2 hybrids are usually the largest, due to the stronger genetic influence of the African Serval ancestor. Male Savannahs tend to be larger than females. Early generation Savannahs may weigh 10 to 25 lbs. Size is also very dependent on generation and sex, with F1 male cats usually being the largest. Later generation Savannahs are usually between 8-17 lbs. Because of the random factors in Savannah hybrid genetics, there can be significant variation in size, even in one litter. Some breeders report Savannahs in excess of 30 pounds, with at least one breeder claiming an over 40 pound male.The coat of a Savannah depends a lot on the breed of cat used for the domestic cross. Early generations have some form of dark spotting on a lighter coat, and many breeders employ "wild" looking spotted breeds such as the Bengal and Egyptian Mau for the cross to help preserve these markings in later generations. The International Cat Association (TICA) breed standard calls for brown spotted tabby (cool to warm brown, tan or gold with black or dark brown spots), silver spotted tabby (silver coat with black or dark grey spots), black (black with black spots), and black smoke (black tipped silver with black spots) only. In addition, the Savannah can come in nonstandard variations such as the classic or marble patterns, snow coloration, and blue or other diluted colors derived from domestic sources of cat coat genetics.
Reproduction and genetics
As Savannahs are produced by crossbreeding Servals and domestic cats, each generation of Savannahs is marked with a filial number. For example, the cats produced directly from a Serval/domestic Cat cross are the F1 generation, and they are typically 50% serval (although if a F1 Savannah is used as the domestic parent, the percentage of Serval blood can jump to 75%). The F2 generation, which has a Serval grandparent and is the offspring of the F1 generation, is 25% Serval. The F3 generation has a Serval great grandparent, and is 12.5% Serval. Earlier generation Savannahs are typically more expensive to purchase due to scarcity. A Savannah/Savannah cross may also be referred to by breeders as SVxSV (SV is the TICA code for the Savannah breed), in addition to the filial number.
Savannahs have been described as friendly, assertive, active, playful and interested in dogs and children. They are commonly compared to dogs in their loyalty, and they will follow their owners around the house like a canine. They can also be trained to walk on a leash like a dog, and even fetch.
Savannahs are considered to have hybrid vigor. Different individuals contain different amounts of Serval and of varied domestic cat breeds, and there are currently no established Savannah breed specific health issues.
Some veterinarians have noted that Servals have smaller livers relative to their body size than domestic cats, and some Savannahs inherit this. For this reason, care is advised in prescribing some medications. Lower doses per weight of the cat may be necessary. In addition, the blood values of Savannahs may vary from the typical domestic cat, due to the serval genes.
There is much anecdotal evidence that Savannahs and other domestic hybrids (such as Bengals) do not respond well to anesthesia containing Ketamine. Many Savannah breeders request in their contracts that Ketamine not be used for surgeries.
Some (but not all) experienced Savannah breeders believe strongly that modified live vaccines should not be used on Savannahs, that only killed virus vaccines should be used.
Some breeders state that Savannah cats have no known special care or food requirements, while others recommend a very high quality diet with no grains or by-products. Some recommend a partial or complete raw food diet, with at least 32% protein and no by-products. Servals often require calcium and other supplements (unless fed a natural, complete and raw diet), especially when growing, and some Savannah breeders recommend supplements as well, especially for the earlier generations. Others consider it unnecessary, or even harmful. Issues of Savannah diet are not without controversy, and again, it is best to seek the advice of a veterinarian or exotic cat specialist before feeding a Savannah cat any non-standard diet.
Laws governing ownership of Savannah cats in the United States vary according to state. Most notably, hybrid cats—defined as a domestic / wild species' cross—such as the Savannah are illegal to own as pets in the state of New York as of
2005. The majority of states, however, follow federal and USDA code, which define wild / domesticated Hybrid crosses as domesticated.
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