SAVANNAH: A beautiful blend of domestic Siamese and wild Serval


Patti Struck
Savannah is a cross breed of domestic Siamese cat and Serval, a medium-sized, large-eared wild African cat. The unusual cross became popular among breeders in the late 1990s and The International Cat Association (TICA) accepted the cat as a new registered breed in 2001 and as a ‘championship breed’ in 2012. Savannah is an extraordinary breed with exotic look of wild cat but personality and care of a domestic cat.
In April 1986, Judee Frank crossbred a male Serval, belonging to Suzi Woods, with a domestic Siamese cat to produce the first Savannah. After a decade, in 1996, Patrick Kelley and Joyce Sroufe wrote the original version of the Savannah breed standard and presented it to the board of TICA. In 2001, the board accepted the breed for registration.
Development of the breed
The development of the breed has not been without its growing pains. One of the complications of crossing two different species was that males for the first several generations bred away from the Serval were sterile, so it took many years before breeders were able to produce fertile males. Once this happened, the ability to create a cat who looked more and more like a Serval became exponentially easier.
Generation to generation
When the breed first started out it was very difficult to keep much of the Serval look because of all the outcrosses that were required until fertile males finally became available. Today, one can see fourth, fifth, sixth, and even more remote generations removed from the Serval who are able to rival the beauty and exotic looks of the early generation Savannahs.  First and second generation Savannahs are usually the largest, due to the stronger genetic influence of their Serval ancestor. As with other hybrid cats such as the Chausie and Bengal Cat, most first generation cats will possess many or all of the Serval’s exotic looking traits, while these traits often diminish in later generations.
Variation in sizes
Male breed tends to be larger than the female. Early-generation Savannahs can weigh 3–9 kg, with the most weight usually attributed to the first or second generation neutered males due to genetics. Later-generation Savannahs are usually around 3–7 kg. Because of the random factors in the breed’s genetics, size can vary significantly, even in one litter.
Coat pattern
The coat of a Savannah should have a spotted pattern, the only pattern accepted by the TICA breed standard. The pattern is the only accepted pattern because it is the only pattern found on the African Serval. Non-standard patterns and colours include: Rosetted, Marble, Snow Colour (Point), Blue Colour, Cinnamon Colour, Chocolate Colour, Lilac (Lavender) and other diluted colours derived from domestic sources of cat coat genetics.
Not hypoallergenic
Savannahs do not need a special diet. Any high-quality cat food is adequate. Savannahs are not hypoallergenic – while it is true that some people are less allergic to Savannahs than other cat breeds! Finally, not all Savannahs cost a fortune – one can find a beautiful later generation Savannah for the price of any other purebred domestic cat breed.
Debunking all myths
A myth about Savannah is her huge size. Although the Serval is larger than a domestic cat, heavier than any domestic cat, after the first couple of generations, Savannah becomes simply an average or large-sized domestic cat. Another myth is that Savannahs are dangerous cats who will attack small children and hunt animals – this is simply not true, the Savannah is a domestic animal who will run away rather than become aggressive in the face of danger. People who have experienced life with a Savannah never want to give up that special bond developed between Savannah and human.
(Patti Struck has been breeding Savannahs for years. She is a member of TICA Rules Committee, TICA Mentors Program and Savannah Committee)