About Servals and Savannahs
Kita the serval.
The serval is a 25-40 pound wild cat that can be compared to the bobcat
of North America: they are not endangered, but need protection in their home
range countries if they are to continue to flourish. They do well in many
habitats, warm to cold, wet to dry grassland, but do not occur in the deserts.
In the United States they have been bred in captivity for many years and there
are probably about 5,000 in private ownership in the US. However, they
do not make good pets, as a rule. They have special dietary requirements,
do badly if they have to move once they are an adult as they don't adjust
to new situations well, and can never be trusted around children or strangers.
They are illegal to possess in some states and in most urban cities. Please
see the following website to learn whether servals are legal to own in your
Here is a link to a website with practical information about keeping a
serval as a pet: http://exoticpets.about.com/od/Exotic-Cats/a/Serval.htm
History of the Savannah Breed
Hybrids have been created throughout history, often accidentally when cats
of different species were housed together. One of the best known is the liger,
the offspring of a lion and a tiger. Half domestic hybrids from Geoffroy cats,
Fishing Cats, and Caracals have been recorded, and more well known, from
the Asian Leopard Cat and the Jungle Cat. The Bengal cat breed (from the
Asian Leopard Cat) is well established, and the Chausie (from the Jungle Cat)
is not far behind. The first recorded hybrid of a domestic with a Serval occurred
in the early 1980's. Judy Frank paired her serval with a domestic cat and
had a litter of kittens, and got even as far as a second generation. At the
time they were mostly thought of as a curiosity. Then in 1994 Joyce Sroufe
successfully bred her serval to a domestic and had a litter. The kittens were
so striking and well tempered that she has been breeding them ever since.
Many more people became interested, a few were successful breeding their pet
servals to domestics, and a few years later the name Savannah was chosen to
be the new breed's name. I became involved in 2000-2001 and soon was lucky
enough to have a profusion of spotted F1 kittens. The Savannah can now be
exhibited at TICA (cat association) cat shows, in the standard championship
category as other breeds.
Along the way we as breeders have learned some critical things about breeding
these cats. In the first generation, the match of serval to domestic presents
some problems. First of all, so far only male servals have successfully been
mated to domestic cats. Female servals so far have either been disinterested
in a male domestic or the male domestic used has been unable to sense that
the serval female is in heat and will not breed them. So all current Savannah
breeding programs use male servals with domestic females. The serval, especially
the male, is a larger cat than the domestic, so both parties must be willing
participants in mating which can be tricky. In order to like eachother usually
the serval and domestic girls must be raised from a young age together. If
mating is successful, due to unknown probably genetic incompatibilities, some
domestic cats are better matches than others. Domestic cats that are not
good matches either will not get pregnant or will miscarry anywhere later
in the pregnancy. The normal length of pregnancy in the serval is about a
week longer than in domestics so some kittens are premature when born and
need assistance. Litters may have a range of kittens in them from ones that
are premature to ones that are fully ready. Most breeders who are successful
breeding F1 savannahs have lots of cat breeding experience and have the equipment
(incubators, precision scales, baby monitors) and know-how necessary to
tube feed and care for kittens that are weak, as well as facilities to house
an intact male serval. This is much of what makes early generation Savannahs
expensive cats. Anyone interested in breeding should be aware of these difficulties.
Later generations are much simpler to breed and raise, but since Savannah
males are infertile until the percentage of serval reaches something close
to just 3-5%, much effort and ingenuity will be needed to make a domestic
Savannah cat that deeply resembles the Serval ancestor. This makes it an
exciting challenge to breeding any generation of Savannah The goal
of course is to retain the elegance, color, pattern and size of the Serval
and add a reliably domestic temperament.
Savannahs: Personality and Special Care of F1s
F1s should never be let outside.
F1 savannahs should be able to get along with other cats even if they are
introduced as adults. Rarely one might grow to be so asocial as to make it
hard to get a new cat later on. But in general they can adjust if there is
plenty of space, if doors can be closed between them early on to create safe
havens, and if they are not forced to interact. F1 savannahs will get along
with dogs, as well as any cat gets along with a dog, which is to say they
may toy with them by batting their tails and eating their dog food in front
of them and playing in their water dish.
F1 savannahs will use a litter box with no problems, and males should not
spray unless they are not fixed. I have heard of a spayed female that sprays,
but this is not the norm.
F1s may need special attention when it comes to cat proofing your home.
Wild cats like servals are notorious for eating foreign objects like toys,
plastic bags, strings, etc. F1s and F2s may have this trait to some degree
and especially as kittens will need watching. Once they are adults you will
know what they like (I had a wild cat that particularly liked men's sweat
socks). Before your new kitten comes home please crawl around and look under
all the furniture for tempting objects. You may also wish to install child
safety latches on cabinets that contain caustic cleaners, etc. This is always
good practice for pets. In addition make sure that toys for F1s are not generic
domestic cat toys, F1s will simply eat those fun little fur mice for example.
Choose sturdy small dog toys. Ferret toys are often very sturdy.
Please consider not only your current situation but your families plans
for the future before getting an F1 savannah. Most F1s will have trouble
adjusting to a new family if they have to change owners half way through
F2s will in general have personalities similar to the spectrum found in
domestic cats. They may range from allowing themselves to be dressed up
to not liking sitting in laps, but as long as they were appropriately socialized
as kittens they will not act too aggressively even if their personal rules
are breached. They may have some traits as adults that will remind you of
a wild cat such as putting their toys in the water dish or getting in the
shower with you or balancing on the tops of doors, they will need slightly
sturdier toys and may need a little extra training than usual in order to
submit to being in a carrier, etc, but in most respects they will seem domestic-like.
They are suitable for families with toddlers or even infants. (Families with
infants should always supervise interactions between the baby and any cat,
domestic or otherwise). F2s are larger than a domestic, taller and slightly
stronger, with a graceful walk and elegant manner of being.
F3s are usually 12 -15 % serval and will be about the same size as a domestic
cat, though they will have slightly longer legs and bigger ears that give
them an exotic look. At this time F3s vary a lot, there is not really yet
a standard look. You will find the most exotic looking F3s are those that
are from a savannah to savannah breeding. F3s should not require any special
houseproofing or extra training as some F2s do. They are perfect for a very
busy family that wants an exotic looking cat that will absolutely always act
like a regular domestic cat. I have heard reports of F3s being indoor outdoor
cats in rural areas.