Savannah Breed History

by Lorre Smith-Lemire
Excerpted from the Savannah Cat Book

Through the years our feline friends have had a history of being either feared or revered. Some associated cats with evil and witchcraft while other, more intelligent members of our species recognized cats as useful companions to help keep unwanted pests and plagues from our doorsteps. The ultimate motive for agreeing to cohabitate with a furry companion is simply because we like relationships that we are able to form with our felines. Companionship, attention, soothing bouts of petting, head butts, purring and cuddling joined together with an aesthetic appeal of having a pet that one just plain enjoys the feel, or size or color make the package complete and many thousands of bonds and relationships are happily clawing their way through life right now.

The pursuit of breeding a certain type of cat is not a new one but yet, we find new breeds cropping up from time to time. One of our newer breeds that is rapidly gaining popularity is the Savannah. A Savannah is a golden or silver colored cat with black, bold distinct spots covering the entire body, or a totally black cat with black spots; the spots showing through the black at varying degree. The Savannah has huge ears very high on the head and a long graceful neck. The body of a Savannah is very sleek and muscular with long legs and a shortened tail (naturally short, never surgically shortened.) The Savannah is a result of breeding various spotted, domestic-shorthair cats to Servals which are a species of cat found mostly in the Savannah region of Africa. The Serval lends many of the characteristics of the Savannah as described in the standard and the Savannah has, as its goal, to develop a breed that looks like the serval but with fully domestic habits. The following is the events that took place to create the very popular breed we have today:

Judee Frank. While interviewing Judy Frank at an International Cat show in 2003 the actual events of the first born Savannah kitten were detailed. Judee had taken charge of a small and somewhat wan serval male that was owned by another breeder. Judee woke on the morning of April 7, 1986 and through her sliding glass door she saw her Siamese cat had a kitten. Judee did not even know her cat was pregnant. The serval, Ernie, was the sire and the kitten was named Miracle by Judee. She notified the owner of Ernie and soon afterwards Judee was made to turn over Miracle, the first documented Savannah.

Soon after the possession of Miracle changed, so did her name. Her name became Savannah and hence the beginning of the breed with the same name. Savannah the cat was reported to have black spotting but lacked the beautiful and colorful background of the serval. She had the long legs and body, tall ears and short tail of the serval parent.

Three years later, in 1989, Suzi Mutascio reported Savannah was bred to a Turkish Angora named Albert II. The Turkish Angora is a tall and lanky, long-haired, WHITE cat developed in Anatolia, also known as Asia Minor. For those who are unfamiliar with white cat genetics; white is simply a can of white paint that is covering any number of other colors. One does not know what the real color of a white cat is until it is bred to other cats to view what colors the kittens turn out. The white gene is dominant which means one does not carry for white; it is either white to see or not white if you don’t see it.

Savannah gave birth to three Savannah kittens on April 5, 1989. Two of the F2 kittens lived and the third was stillborn. The luck of the draw, as is with most early generation Savannah breedings; the stillborn was perfectly marked and colored like a serval. Out of the remaining two kittens, the male was solid white and the female was a torbie.

Lori Buchko came to own the F1 female and once she had kittens, sold a F2 female named Kitty and her red spotted F3 son to Patrick Kelly.

This leads us to Patrick Kelly’s contribution to furthering the breed. Patrick actually viewed pictures of Savannah in the Long Island Ocelot Club (L.I.O.C. which blossomed into Feline Conservation Federation) newsletter when she was first reported in late 1986; this started his long love for Savannahs.

In 1989, Patrick met Bill Scroufe at Lolly Brothers Auction in Macon, Missouri. Bill was there to sell some serval kittens for his wife Joyce. Patrick learned that Joyce bred Bengals, Servals, Caracals, Cougars and Canadian Lynx and thought she might be interested in working on this new breed. He began communicating by phone with Joyce and went to Oklahoma twice to visit with Joyce.

Joyce was not convinced of the value of the breed but finally agreed to try to produce them when Patrick assured her that he would assist in finding them good homes. In 1994, Joyce Scroufe produced her first litter and contacted Patrick to let him know. Patrick could not breed for F1 Savannahs in his home state California because it was practically impossible to own a serval there and he wanted to be sure Joyce Scroufe would continue to breed Savannahs so he did indeed work to find a good home for both kittens and Joyce paid him a small finder’s fee for helping to find the F1 kittens homes.

At that time, Joyce Scroufe indeed saw a true market for this new breed of cats and she agreed to breed more. Patrick was pleased that Joyce agreed and he continued to promote the Savannah breed and does so to this very day. Twenty years later Joyce still is remembered for producing more Savannah kittens than any other breeder even though she is retired from breeding now.

In 1996 and possibly through his contact with a Bengal breeder, Karen Sausman, Patrick became interested in going through the process of having the breed recognized by The International Cat Association as a championship breed. Patrick contacted Leslie Bowers, the Executive secretary, to find out the process to do so.

Once, on a visit to TICA, I asked Ms. Bowers about Patrick Kelly and she and several others in the office reported that they considered Patrick as the breed’s “founder,” saying he first contacted the office and each subsequent time he was polite and asked very in-depth questions and did just as he was instructed, never making a pest of himself. Ms. Bower’s help and guidance proved to be an enormous help to Patrick in completing the steps and application to have the Savannah Breed accepted.
In 1996, Patrick with the help of Karen Sausman and Joyce Scroufe wrote the first Savannah Standard and submitted it to TICA at the semi-annual Board meeting. Unfortunately, when we received the news back it was not good for the Savannah and several other new breed proposals that had been submitted. At that Board meeting it was decided to place a two year moratorium on any new breeds while the New Breed Program would undergo revamping. It was a hard blow to those of us working on the breed. In 1998 the moratorium was extended for two more years. It was a very tough time for those of us who had begun breeding Savannahs in earnest. After the second moratorium was put into place so easily many lost hope of ever getting to be recognized as legitimate. No one knew if we would ever obtain registration and it was disheartening and frustrating. By that time I was showing Bengals in Championship and decided to begin to bring along some of the Savannahs I had bred. Early generation Savannahs were placed in the hands of the TICA President and Vice President and any judges who would handle them.

Gary Fulgham. In 1999, Gary formed a Yahoo email group/community with the goal in mind to contact and meet other Savannah breeders and invite them to the group. Gary felt as though the breeders, if brought together, could share their experiences breeding the crucial F1 generation cats. The group was indeed a wonderful resource for what turned out to be the Savannah breed’s forefathers or founders if you will. The members, in no particular order were: Patrick Kelley, Ruth Todice, Allison Navarro, Doreen Boileau, Pat Killmaier, Gary Fulgham, Grace Lush, Nicole Grieg, Joy Peel, Rise Mikolajewski, Pat Babin, Joyce Scroufe, Lisa Newell, Suzie Huening, Renae Baker, Phyllis Koch, Sandra Cassalia and myself. The Eighteen who did the work for the breed we now consider commonplace to breed, register and show. Many of The Eighteen no longer breed Savannahs and yet still deserve recognition.

During the time Gary was assembling the eighteen, several groups of not-yet-recognized breeds, such as the Chausies, Toygers and Serengetis, with the help of Bobbie Tullo, long-time TICA Judge, worked toward getting our breeds known. In September of 2000 during the Board meeting the moratorium was lifted and the New Breed Program was put into place. I was able to carry that information back to The Eighteen.

Patrick pulled out the old standard and The Eighteen had long discussions and work meetings to revamp and clarify the new Savannah Standard; by October I submitted a new application and Standard to TICA requesting the breed be advanced to “Registration Only.” This status was our first step to where we are today in TICA. That is where the making of this book began. The original head study I did was used as a basis for discussion of the standard.

Once that requirement was met, one of the breeders suggested opening a new Yahoo group that would be specifically for The Eighteen and any new breeders beginning to breed Savannahs. The group was growing and decided that was a good idea. Lisa Newell suggested the name be SIMBA which would stand for Savannah International Member & Breeder Association. We voted and passed that suggestion. Doreen Boileau drew the cat in the middle section of our logo and I then set it into graphics I designed. We voted and appointed the first Board of Directors, Nicole Grieg as Treasurer, Phyllis Koch as Secretary, Arden Morley as Vice President and I as President. I was also proposed and passed at that time that I be the first Chair Person for the breed because I was so involved with TICA and knew many of the rules already; a position I held for five years in the formative years.

On February 12, 2001 I sent this email out to all SIMBA members: This is the week that is important to us all. Wednesday is the day I am up before the TICA Board for licensing as a judge. Thursday evening is when Joy and I will be presenting a Serval and F1 through F3 Savannah to the TICA Board and Friday is the session when the Board will vote on Registration status for our breed. All the work we have put into this over the years of breeding and then over the last few months, getting the standard ready as well as all the paperwork, planning and working together is about to all come together. We should all keep our thoughts and dreams and little hopeful prayers on this going through without a hitch this week.

February 15, 2001, the Savannah gained registration only status. I wrote this email to our SIMBA members (word for word, copied from the group email on Yahoo Groups:
WE MADE IT!!!!!!!!!

Joy and I went to the meetings and presented the Serval and Savannah girls. They made a big hit.

Peace (f2) took a stroll on top of the board’s table. She walked very slowly and daintily right in front of each and every board member taking a pause in front of everyone so they could admire her and talk to her and pet her. It was like we trained her to do this. She made the entire circle around and then we just moved on to some more cats. We answered a lot of questions, I thought it was going well but then one of the board members raised some concerns about how this type of breeding encourages people to keep wild cats caged for breeding purposes and he didn’t like that at all.

The vote was close,…much closer than I would have liked. There were three people who abstained from voting and three people who voted no and 8 who voted in favor of the Savannahs. SO,,,,, we now know who our friends are. Per the board, we have to be on our best behavior and we have to be sure to ALWAYS have written permission from the show manager to bring any Serval or Savannah into a show hall. We have to not do anything that will show us off in a bad light at all because this is just the beginning of a long road and it will be a lot easier if we don’t create problems for ourselves.

We have great cause to celebrate tonight and now we have to get going early next week getting these cats registered. I will spend some time with Leslie tomorrow night and make sure the best way to proceed to get the registration process started.

So let’s CELEBRATE!!!!!!!

Lorre Smith – SIMBA President

Once formed, and the Savannah accepted for registration, SIMBA helped many breeders become TICA members by providing forms to help to register catteries and the existing Savannahs and servals. In that first year SIMBA Board members helped to create 21 new TICA members, over 30 SIMBA members and the Savannah breeders registered just over 100 Savannahs. We were ready for our next step; we wanted to be able to show our Savannahs to judges, other exhibitors and the general public.

In October 2001, the forms were submitted for Evaluation show status. Joy Peel and I went again to the semi-annual meeting in Harlingen, Texas and I presented facts and figures of what our breeders had accomplished and the Savannah was unanimously accepted for exhibition only. That means any third generation, or lower, Savannah could then go into a show hall and be exhibited by the owner and any judge may handle and judge that Savannah. This was a huge step in the right direction for our breed. Again we brought the news home to the SIMBA group and all interested breeders were invited to that first show the Savannah was eligible for in Oklahoma City in May of 2002. Nicole Grieg attended but did not bring a cat to show. I brought Afrikhan Sophia and she made her debut representing the Savannah breed. Sophia was a perfectly behaved girl and she got rave reviews from all who handled her. It was such a special day for the entire Savannah breed and a personal win for me.

Meanwhile, Patrick went on to breed Kitty to an Oriental Shorthair and produced a female F3 named Botswana. Botswana grew up and was bred back to a serval and she had an F1 girl named Tallulah who I actually had the pleasure of meeting in California in 2001. Tallulah was again bred to another serval and produced F1 cats Gretta and Leo. Patrick, Gretta and I appeared on a segment of Animal Planet’s show, Ask the Vet in early 2003.

During the years that followed I was tasked with developing and presenting a Savannah seminar to Board members and spectators at least once a year and traveling to the semi-annual and annual TICA meetings to give breed reports to the TICA Board which I did and presented the seminar many times for breeders. At some of the shows various breeders would come out and visit/show their Savannahs. We kept very close records of who showed and listed that in every breed report to the Board. I was also invited to Moscow, Russia to judge two shows and the present a Savannah to the breeders there; which I gladly did to get the Savannah known in new territory.

In addition Patrick’s has been a resource for all Savannah breeders by giving information and through heading up advertising efforts. Patrick has certainly been there from the beginning and all Savannah breeders and owners owe him a debt of gratitude. He is one of the true founders of the breed and part of The Eighteen breeders who actually worked so hard to make this breed what it is.

Carol Streit became breed chair in 2006 and was a calm moderating force for the breed through a remodeling of the Savannah Standard and the TICA new breed program, during her term. I might also mention that Patti Struck has worked tirelessly on issues pertaining to the Savannah breed for many years.

The Savannah has made a hit and gained much popularity the world over. We have Savannahs in the United States, Canada, Sweden, Austria, France, Italy and Germany. The Savannah has been featured in magazine articles in South America, Italy, Germany and Malaysia; as well.

In May of 2012 the Savannah breed was accepted as a Championship status breed and is able to compete against all other registered breeds. At the time of Championship status, a full complement of breed committee members were voted into place instead of the one person, there are now seven members; Brigitte Cowell as chairperson, Paige Dana, Patti Struck, Lori Greer, Jim Smith, Jennifer Gray and Kristine Alesio. In 2014 there are actually Regional and International winning Savannahs.
Relatively speaking the breed is still in its infancy compared to breeds that have been in competition since before TICA even existed. The Savannah breed is off to a great start and will continue to gain in popularity and acceptance as breeders work on perfecting their breeding programs and their cats.

Many of the documents mentioned in this history, along with breed reports and SIMBA newsletters are listed on the website.


Breed History - AmirServal 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.

Savannah Cats

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.