History About the Exotics We Breed

History of the Savannah Cats

The savannah cat is a hybrid cross between an African serval and a domestic cat. The savannah was named after the habitat of the serval and its beauty echoes the lush splendor of those golden plains in Africa. Much like its wild ancestor, the savannah is a tall, lean cat, with long legs, big ears, and a long neck. Its coat shows the typical spotted pattern, along with some bars, often on a golden or tawny background. The savannah is a smaller version of the African serval at about half of the weight or less. It is a sociable, affectionate breed that gets along with other pets and older children.

History of the Savannah Cats

Savannah cats are a spotted domestic cat breed that started in the 1980s. Developed to give the impression of grandeur and dignity of a wildcat with a cheetah-type appearance, expressive eyes highlighted by dark tear stains, vibrant coat colors, solid contrasting black spots, huge sonar-like ears, and long legs. Since 2006 they have held the Guinness Book World Record for the world’s tallest domestic cat. They do not require any special health care. They visit a regular veterinarian for routine feline health maintenance.

The breed standard calls for all traits to mimic those of its ancestor the African Serval. The goal of the breed is to obtain a well-rounded temperament yet wild-looking breed that makes a suitable alternative to an exotic pet. Poorly developed bloodlines can be mistaken for Bengal Cats, which have an opposite body structure to the Savannah.

  • Lifespan: 12-20 years

  • Weight: 12-25 pounds

  • Exercise: High

  • Hypoallergenic: No

     Generations represent the number of pairings removed from the Serval Cat. Generations are important to breeders because stud males are not fertile until 10% or less exotic heritage. Out-crossing to different breeds is not permissible. The breed moved to championship status in 2012, meaning that “Purebred Savannah Cats” can be shown at TICA cat shows. According to TICA rules at championship status, no new Serval Cat can be registered for use in an “F1” program.

    • F1 Savannah Cat

    • F2 Savannah Cat

    • F3 Savannah Cat

    • Purebred Savannah Cat

      • What is a “Purebred Savannah Cat”?

        Purebred Savannah Cats have three (3) or more consecutive generations of Savannah to Savannah heritage. Purebred Savannahs have the most advanced breed status and are able to be show at TICA cat shows. They are the key to locking quality Serval traits in a breeding line. Ideal for novice cat owners as they are extremely similar in behavior to the average domestic cat. They will have SBT classification on their TICA registration, also refered to as SBT Savannahs.

    Hybrid infertility is when a hybrid cross can not reproduce due to genetics. Joyce Sroufe, the founder of the breed, retained all generations attempting to get fertile males. She was unsuccessful until five generations removed.

Characteristics of the Savannah Cat

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly High
Exercise Needs Medium
Playfulness High
Energy Level Medium
Intelligence Medium
Tendency to Vocalize Medium
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the Bengal Cats

Bengal cats are beautiful, smart, and wild-looking cats. This hybrid cat breed is growing in popularity due to its patterns and personalities, and it stays about the same size as a large domestic house cat. They were developed by breeding an Asian leopard cat (Felis bengalensis—which is where the name “Bengal” was derived) with a domestic house cat such as an Abyssinian, Egyptian Mau, or American shorthair.

History of the Bengal

A Bengal cat is considered a hybrid breed. Bengals are not typically included in lists that exclude exotic or big cat breeds due to the fact that they are smaller, are accepted by several other organizations as a pure breed, and are bred consistently past three generations (the first three generations look and act the wildest). Licensing requirements for Bengal cats were removed in the United Kingdom in 2007. 

If you love a cat with an exotic look but without the size and danger of a wild cat, the Bengal was developed with you in mind. Created by crossing small Asian Leopard Cats with domestic cats, this large-boned, shorthaired cat stands out for his spotted or marbled coat of many colors. People have always been attracted by the beauty and independence of wild cats and have even tried to keep wild cats such as ocelots, cheetahs and lions, usually with little success and a lot of heartbreak. The Bengal was developed to try to meet that desire for a wild look in a safe way by crossing small wild Asian Leopard Cats and domestic shorthairs. Jean S. Mill began the Bengal breeding program in 1963, and Bengals today descend from cats bred by her in the early 1980s.

The International Cat Association recognized Bengals in 1991. The breed is not recognized by the Cat Fanciers Association

Other Quick Facts

  • The Bengal’s beautiful coat comes in many background colors, ranging from golden, rust, brown and orange to sand, buff and ivory. Bengal spots also vary in color, from rust or cocoa and chocolate brown to charcoal or black.
  • Some Bengal coats have striking rosettes or spots made up of more than one color, usually a secondary color forming a dark outlining to the spot. Bengal coats also come in a marbled pattern: one or more colors swirled into the background color. While most commonly seen in the brown spotted tabby pattern, they may also be found in the marbled pattern (classic tabby).
  • A Bengal’s coat can have hairs with an iridescent sheen, making it look as if it has been sprinkled with glitter.

Characteristics of the Bengal

Affection Level High
Friendliness Medium
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly High
Exercise Needs High
Playfulness High
Energy Level High
Intelligence High
Tendency to Vocalize Medium
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the Serval Cat

The serval cat is a beautiful animal that some people keep as an exotic pet. While you may be able to acquire a serval cat from a breeder, they are considered wild cats. To own a serval cat, you must create a large, secure outdoor enclosure and provide a warm environment year-round. They will need to feed on whole prey food items and require veterinary care from an experienced exotics vet.

History of the Serval Cat

The serval cat is from Africa where tall grass and bushes can camouflage this tall cat allowing it to sneak up on its prey. They are known to resemble cheetahs but have shorter tails than their larger cousins. They typically hunt where they can hide and stay near water. In the wild, they are solitary and cover a home territory of four to 12 square miles. African serval cats are not on the endangered species list.

Having the longest legs of any cat (in proportion to their bodies), servals are agile jumpers as well as experienced diggers. They can catch birds over nine feet in the air and dig a couple of feet into the ground to get under a fence.

Serval cats have been kept by humans since the ancient Egyptians and are depicted in their art. However, they are not domesticated. Breeding stock arrived in the U.S. over a century ago and you may find serval cats that are many generations removed from African imports. Even such domestically-bred servals are subject to restrictions on the ownership of wild cats and exotic animals.

Breeders have also been crossing serval cats with domestic cats to produce hybrids, such as the Savannah cat. A Savannah might be a better option than a serval if you like the look of the serval but need a tamer cat that is easier to care for.

Characteristics of the Serval Cat

Affection Level Medium
Friendliness Low
Kid-Friendly Low
Pet-Friendly Low
Exercise Needs High
Playfulness High
Energy Level High
Intelligence High
Tendency to Vocalize Medium
Amount of Shedding Low

The Ocelot Cat

History of the Ocelot Cat

Although the ocelot is included in my category of endangered big cats, they fall into a sub-species of smaller “big cats.” A full-grown male ocelot may weigh 24 to 35 pounds, with the females slightly smaller, and its body length may be up to five feet. The ocelot has magnificent rosette markings, very similar in color and appearance to that of the leopard.

Distinctive Features of the Ocelot

  • White circle around eyes, with a black “mascara” marking across the top lid and running down both sides of the nose
  • Large white circles on the backs of both ears.
  • The tail is one-third the length of its body.

The Habitat of the Ocelot

In the U.S., the ocelot is still occasionally found in parts of Arizona, and in south Texas brush country and the lower Rio Grande Valley. To better blend with the brush habitat, these ocelots may be lighter in color than the jungle ocelots.

Why Is the Ocelot an Endangered Species?

In the United States and Mexico, the danger of extinction lies in the encroachment of development upon the Ocelot’s habitat (thick, brushy areas where they raise their young.) To some degree, the encroachment of human influence on habitats also plays a role in the decline of ocelot populations in rainforests and jungles. Two other factors in the 1960s led to the reduction in the population of ocelots that included the sale of ocelots as pets in the U.S. (which is fortunately now illegal) and the sale of ocelot pelts for fur. Although it is now illegal to engage in this trade, there is still an illegal market for Ocelot pelts. It takes 20 Ocelots to make a fur coat; do the math.

Social Life of the Ocelot

The ocelot is basically a solitary animal, which hunts and roams its territorial range (around 20 square miles) alone. The male marks his territory with typically strong urine and is careful not to intrude into other male ocelots’ territories. Ocelots’ acute sight, sense of hearing and smell make them natural candidates as night predators. Although they are agile climbers and often kill and feed on monkeys, birds, and squirrels, they primarily hunt on the ground. On the ground, ocelots feed on reptiles, fish, rodents and rabbits, and young deer.

Ocelot Kittens

Ocelots reach sexual maturity at about two years and mate once or twice a year thereafter. After a gestation period of approximately 70 days, a litter is born of one to four kittens, averaging two. The female ocelot is a dedicated mother, who only leaves her kittens in their secluded den to hunt. At around six months, the young ocelots start to hunt with their mother. Around 18 months, they leave to establish their own territories.

You can help ocelots and other big cats regain their rightful role in the world of animals by supporting these organizations.

Only by working together can we prevent the ocelot from going the way of the Cape Lion, and more recently, the Anatolian Leopard.

Big Cats as Pets

Lions, Tigers, Bengal Tigers, and Other Non-Domestic Wildcats

Big cats such as lions and tigers are awe-inspiring, beautiful animals. People are often intrigued by keeping big wildcat species as pets, but what kind of pets do tigers, lions, bobcats, and other big cats make?

The Captive Wildlife Safety Act

The Captive Wildlife Safety Act was introduced and passed in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2004 to address the problems of the availability of wild cats as pets. This law prohibits interstate and foreign trade in exotic cats, including lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, and cougars for the pet trade.

Circuses, zoos, wildlife rehabilitators, and some other licensed facilities are exempt. This legislation was introduced with the sole purpose of making these big cats unavailable to the pet trade, although it is not an outright ban on ownership. Within-state breeders may still operate legally in some states.

If owning a big cat still intrigues you, you must consider a few factors before meeting with a reputable breeder.

  • Keeping wild cats such as tigers, lions, bobcats, and cougars may be illegal where you live (either under local laws or by wider regulations).
  • You will need a veterinarian that is willing to treat your animal, and it is difficult to find one.
  • The future for many big cats is a life of neglect and even abuse when their owners cannot handle them anymore. Deciding to own a big cat is taking on a high level of responsibility for these animals, one that most people find overwhelming after the first couple of years.

Even the smaller non-domestic cats, such as bobcats, servals, and lynx, are not at all like domestic cats. Different species have different temperaments, but all of these cats can exhibit unwanted behavior from urine marking to aggression.

Most of these cats will need spacious outdoor cages in order to thrive. It is a huge commitment and responsibility to properly care for smaller wild cats such as bobcats.

Large cats such as lions, tigers, leopards, and cougars are even more problematic. Even if they are not overly aggressive, their natural tendencies must be remembered. They are predators; even at play, their huge size and strength can make them a threat.

Pet tigers have been involved in several fatalities and maulings in the U.S. and Canada in recent years. Sadly, pet tigers and other big cats end up neglected, abused, or given up to sanctuaries when their owners cannot care for them.

While there are owners of big cats who go out of their way to provide appropriate housing and diet and have no problems, there are countless others who are misguided in their expectations and ability to provide the proper care.

All big (wild) cats have sharp claws and teeth and can be quite destructive. Even trained zookeepers who work with these animals every day are in danger of being attacked if the animal is startled or provoked in some way.

Housing Big Cats

Big cats need a lot of space, and usually custom-built cages—even smaller species like serval. The cage must be secure and safe because there’s a very real danger of a big cat escaping and attacking people.

You will need to provide plenty of intellectual and physical enrichment opportunities, much like a zoo, for your wild cat. These are smart, inquisitive animals who will get bored if they are understimulated.

Big cats tend to spray their urine and they have a musky odor. This is classic “marking” behavior that the animals can’t really be trained out of. Be prepared to clean the animal’s enclosure thoroughly and frequently.

Big Cat Rescue estimates an investment of $25,000 in the first year of owning a small to midsize wildcat and annual costs of $7,500. For big cats, expect over $100,000 for the first year and ongoing annual costs of over $10,000.

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