Although Savannahs did not gain worldwide popularity and recognition until the late 1990s, the first known Savannah (pairing of an African Serval and a domestic cat) was achieved in the early 1980s by Breeder Judee Frank. The F1 female resulting from this unplanned breeding was named, “Savannah,” and most appropriately, is the official name of this fascinating breed today, nearly 30 years later.
The efforts of many dedicated breeders helped to establish the Savannah Cat in its elevated position as one of the rarest and most sought after domestic companion pets in the world today, however, very special recognition should be accredited to the following individuals:
Joyce Sroufe, considered the Founder of the Savannah Breed, who armed with little more than a vision, risked this experimental breeding and produced her very first litter of kittens in 1994 and officially introduced the “Savannah Cat” to the public.
Patrick Kelly, who presented the first Savannah Breed Standard to the TICA Board of Directors in February 1996, and continued to work diligently until 2001 when TICA lifted their moratorium on new breeds and accepted Savannahs for domestic registration and granted them Experimental New Breed Status.
Another person who deserves recognition as being instrumental in the development of Savannahs as a very successful and popular breed is Lorre Smith, the first TICA Savannah Breed Chair person, whose dedicated efforts helped launch Savannahs forward within the ranks of TICA at a rate more rapid than any other breed in its history. It was through Lorre’s efforts during a moratorium on hybrid breeds within TICA, that this breed was eventually accepted into TICA’s New Breed program.
Carol Streit, succeeded Lorre Smith as Savannah Breed Chair and served in this capacity until Savannahs attained Championship status in 2012.
Brigitte Cowell, was elected TICA Savannah Breed Chairman in 2012. She is, quite notably, the first Savannah Breed Chairman elected by the members of the Savannah Breed Section, and continues to lead the Breed into the future, with confidence, creativity and political savvy.
In the years since TICA first accepted Savannahs for registration as domestic cats, Savannahs have advanced from “Experimental New Breed Status” to “Preliminary New Breed Status” to ” Advanced New Breed” and in May 2012, finally advanced to “Championship” status.
The response of TICA Judges and the general public has been overwhelmingly favorable over the past few years, establishing Savannah Cats, with their elegant, exotic looks and interactive personalities as perhaps the most sought after companion animal in the world today.
Breed History – Serval Cats
The African Serval (Leptailurus Serval) is a medium-sized wild spotted cat found in Sub-Saharan Africa. Inhabiting wetlands and grassy savannahs, they prey mainly on rodents, frogs, birds and other small animals. Servals are lithe, tall cats with tawny background coats and large black spots; very tall ears set close together on top of the head, long legs, and a moderately short “ringed” tail. They weigh between 25 and 50 pounds at maturity and average 20″ at the shoulder.
They are extremely active and agile, (can easily leap 10 feet from a sitting position), and consequently, they require plenty of room to run and play, typically a specially constructed, fenced outdoor security enclosure. They are reputed to have a more outgoing personality than many wild cats, and bond strongly to their owners. They have been privately owned in the U.S. for years, and kept as pets in Africa for much longer than that.
They are typically not ideal house pets, largely due to permitting requirements, their size, vigorous energy, specialized dietary requirements, propensity for “marking” and generally less than perfect litter habits. Their lifespan is 20 years and they are not easily adaptable to environmental changes; therefore Serval ownership is a long-term commitment and not one to ever be approached casually. State, County and City laws require most owners to obtain special permitting to own a Serval, and in some areas of the United States, Serval ownership is illegal.
There are only a few hundred Savannahs in the world at this time, making them very special and highly sought after companion pets. Their exotic looks, larger size and domestic temperament make them a suitable alternative to exotic ownership. On average, Savannahs weigh between 15-20 lbs at maturity. They are lithe, tall, spotted cats with large “ocelli marked” ears and boomerang shaped eyes. Acceptable base coat colors include Brown Spotted Tabbies, “warm colored” (honey/golden) or “cool colored” (grayish), Silver, Smoke or Melanistic (black).
Savannahs are very active, outgoing and intelligent cats with a keenly developed inquisitive nature. Somewhat “dog-like” in their behavior and devotion to their owners, they typically want to be the center of attention, are easily leash-trained using a “walking jacket” or harness, can be trained to play “fetch,” adore heights, and may even enjoy bathing and swimming. At a young age, they can be easily socialized with other household pets, dogs included, and can be trusted with well-behaved children.
Some special terminology is used when referring to Savannahs, as a measure of how many generations removed they are from their Serval ancestors.
F1= First Generation, has an African Serval Parent
F2= Second Generation, has an African Serval Grandparent
F3= Third Generation, has an African Serval Great-Grandparent
(and so on through subsequent lower generations)
While all generations of female Savannahs are fertile, males are sterile until the fifth generation (F5) and should be neutered and placed as pets. Savannah females are typically bred to F5 Savannah males (termed Savannah to Savannah breeding) or to domestic outcrosses. Oriental Shorthairs, Egyptian Maus, and Domestic Shorthairs are recognized as Permissible Outcrosses by TICA, but some beautiful cats have also been bred using Serengetis, Ocicats and Bengals, just to mention a few.
F1 Savannahs are rare and expensive. The initial cross between a Serval and domestic cat is very difficult, due to the vast size differences between the two cats and also because of the variances in gestation periods between exotic and domestic cats (65 days for domestics, 66-77 days for Servals). Consequently, kittens are frequently born premature and require special around the clock care.