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The Savannah is a fairly new breed of shorthaired cat, and is the name given to the offspring of a Serval (a wild African cat of medium size with large upright ears) and a domestic shorthair, the first hybrid using a Siamese. It is very rarely seen in the UK, and is not recognised by the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF), meaning that it cannot be shown at GCCF shows, although it is recognised by TICA and there are two clubs devoted to the breed with a handful of breeders interested in developing it in this country. The Savannah is one of the largest domesticated breeds of cats, with males sometimes reaching as much as 30lb, with females slightly smaller, although size of individual Savannahs can vary within one litter, this being attributed to the random factors of Serval genes.
This rather unusual hybrid started gathering popularity with American breeders in the 1990s, and gained initial recognition from The International Cat Association (TICA) in 2001. It all started in 1986 when a breeder of Bengal cats, Judee Frank, produced the first recorded Savannah by crossing a male Serval with a female Siamese. The very first kitten was a female, who was named as Savannah, and who gave her name to this new breed. Another breeder, Patrick Kelley, was one the first to be interested in developing this cross between Serval and a domestic shorthaired cat, and in 1989 he bought one of Savannah's kittens. He then persuaded another breeder, Joyce Stroufe to join him in this new venture and together they wrote a Standard and took it forward to The International Cat Association (TICA), and in 2001 the new Savannah breed was recognised. The breed started to attract interest in Britain from about 2006 when stock imported from the USA was introduced, and in 2010 British breeder Rosanne Boyle produced the very first Savannah, a female called 'Amazing Grace'. She was registered with TICA, and since then the breed has seen a steady growth of interest amongst British breeders.
The coat of the Savannah will vary enormously, dependent on the breed of the domestic cross, and 'permitted' outcrosses are the Ocicat, the Egyptian Mau, the Oriental shorthair and the Domestic Shorthair. Some breeders use 'non-permitted' breeds such as the Bengal or the Maine Coone to give that dramatic wild appearance, but this can introduce undesirable genes. Now that the breed is well established with a good gene pool and a variety of male cats, most Savannahs are bred 'like to like' with good results, with the occasional exception of returning to their roots with a Serval. The TICA Standard describes a spotted tabby pattern which can be various colours including brown, black, silver and silver smoke, although other non-standard patterns such as classic tabby, marbled tabby or pointed, and colours including blue and the dilute colours, such as lilac and chocolate, are starting to creep in. Breeders are being encouraged to sell these colours purely as non-breeding pets so that the original standard can be maintained. The wild look is often related to the Serval ancestry with their long, almost rangy bodies, and long legs with the hind end often higher than the shoulders - and the backs of the ears often have what are known as 'ocelli', a central light band bordered by a darker colour giving an eye-like effect. Many have dark 'tear-streak' or 'cheetah tear' markings from the corner of the eyes down the sides of the nose to the whiskers, much like that of a cheetah. Kittens are born with blue eyes, but these gradually develop into green, brown, gold, or even a mix, as they become adult.
Savannahs are said to be very intelligent, often almost dog-like in their devotion to their humans who they will follow endlessly around the home. However, they react in different ways to people they do not know, sometimes hissing and growling in an unfamiliar situation, whilst others are happy to make new friends whether that be human, another a cat or a dog. They have a very inquisitive nature, wanting to know exactly what is going on, and are perfectly capable of making their own way past closed doors into rooms or cupboards that look potentially interesting. Because of their wild ancestry, many are not afraid of water and will enjoy splashing about, much as a dog will. Because they have such long hind legs, jumping does not present a problem for them and they will enjoy leaping on and off high obstacles round the house. Savannahs sometimes fluff out the base of their tail as a greeting, or wag their tails when they are happy, another trait that is more akin to a dog than a cat. They have a range of sounds in their vocal register and may chirp like a Serval or meow like a domestic shorthair, and others make a noise that sounds rather like the hiss of a snake that can be disconcerting for those not used to this normal means of communication.
This is generally a very healthy breed of cat, although some vets have noted that they sometimes inherit the smaller livers of their Serval ancestors, which needs to be watched, especially as they get older. Like all other cats, Savannahs need annual vaccination boosters against the common feline ailments of flu and enteritis, as well as against Feline Leukaemia if they go outdoors, though breeders vary in their opinion as to whether a live or dead vaccine is better for this breed.
The coat of the Savannah is short and sleek and will need only the minimum amount of grooming to remove any loose hairs. Many breeders say that the Savannah will eat most good quality brands of cat food, whereas others say they require a high quality diet with little grain or by-products, and some recommend a high proportion of fresh meat with at least 30% protein. It is probably best to follow the advice of the breeder and feed your new kitten or cat whatever they have been used to. Most breeders agree that Savannahs have a need for more taurine than the average domestic cat, and recommend a taurine supplement, which can be added to any food type. However, cows' milk will probably give them a stomach upset, and a bowl of water should always be available.