The Savannah cat is the result of breeding a Serval
or leptailurus serval
) with a domestic cat (or occasionally, a Bengal
. They are large
, ranging from 18-25lbs, and they have very long legs like their Serval relatives. They are an utter joy
to live with.
Serval are kept as pets in many parts of the world (and called "the poor man's cheetah"). They are elegant animals, friendly and outgoing and quite welcoming of human contact. Unfortunately, there are restrictions in many places in the US. Since they are officially an exotic cat, often special licenses must be obtained, and ownership in many cities is prohibited. However, Savannahs require no permit (and unlike the Serval, they require no special diet).
In the early 1980s, a woman named Judy Frank from Pennsylvania started experimenting with outcrossing a Serval. Later, in 1994, another breeder from Oklahoma by the name of Joyce Sroufe also produced a litter of Savannah kittens. They were very sociable, and she kept breeding them.
In 1996 the Savannah was presented to the TICA Board of Directors but was not granted new breed status due to a moratorium on new breeds. At this time, the breed is only allowed registration in TICA, meaning they cannot compete in cat shows. On the other hand, with their stunning personalities and "mini-cheetah" looks, they would probably steal the show and make the other owners jealous.
A first generation Savannah is called an F1, and is 50-75% serval. The 50% is the natural outcome of breeding a regular cat with a Serval, and the 75% is obtained by breeding a 50% F1 back to a serval. Second generation Savannahs are called F2s and are 25% Serval. Third generation is F3 and so on. Male cats are sterile for the first three generations and are sold only as pets. Females are fertile and sold mostly for breeding, since the breed is still very young.
Savannahs usually resemble Servals, with a golden base coat and dark spots. They have large, round ears with ear spots on the backs and tear lines on their faces. Cross-breeding with Bengals has also produced marbled Savannahs. There are melanistic (black) Serval, and black on black Savannahs have been reported. There is also a "snow" (white) coloration, as in Bengals. The golden and black Savannahs have yellow to green eyes while the white ones have blue eyes (it is a form of partial albinism).
Unlike many breeds, Savannahs are also bred to have outgoing and friendly personalities. My own experience with Plato, a lovely F2 male, indicates that they are playful, affectionate, and far more entertaining than television.
There are some important things to keep in mind when purchasing a Savannah. They are very large when fully grown, and you will need a large litter box. They are also heavy, and you will have to put them in a cat carrier and take them to the vet. If you are living with the elderly, you should take care to clip their nails, since the force of one springing off a lap could damage people with thin skin (I am constantly covered with scratches from Plato either playing too rough or using me as a stepping stone in a series of leaps to a higher place). If you keep small breakable objects which you are inordinately attached to, you shouldn't have cats at all. If you have small children, tell them they must respect the cat.
Savannahs play in water. One of Plato's favorite things to do is drop a ball in the water dish and then leave it in my shoes and other places I am likely to put my bare foot on unexpectedly. Also, Plato likes to be near me. After I worked for several hours to clear off my desk, he decided I had created a bare spot by the computer so he could lounge there. He is sitting there as I type this.
Another thing to remember is that Savannahs may intimidate your roommates. On the other hand, your roommates may think your cat is the coolest thing since sliced bread and show him off to everyone they know. It is useful to get your pet microchipped, tattooed with an identification number, or otherwise tagged as yours.
Finally, Savannahs are expensive, partially because they are such a new breed and partially because the size difference between the domestic and the Serval can make breeding difficult. Males range from $5000-6000 for a 75% F1 to $1500-3000 for an F3. 75% F1 females can cost up to $10,000. Pricing usually depends on the quality of the coat markings and how much the cat resembles a serval (ie, conforms to the breed standards), as well as how many generations it is removed from the initial cross. It is important to be sure you have a reputable breeder - there have been instances of full-blooded Servals and domestic cats with no serval heritage being sold as Savannahs.
One nice thing about Savannahs is that they tend to act like puppy dogs - following you around, licking your feet, and generally demanding attention. They can also be taught to walk on leashes. If you decide you'd like a cat like this, the Savannah International Member and Breeder Assocation (SIMBA) is a good starting place. The International Cat Associaton (TICA) also maintains a list of breeders.
research drawn from http://www.simba.cc, http://www.savannahcat.com, and http://www.tica.org. Thanks also to Plato for being wonderful.