Supercats” closely descended from wild animals represent a danger to other pets and even small children, animal welfare groups fear. Mild-mannered moggies are increasingly being replaced by new breeds in which African or South American wildcats have been crossbred with domestic cats.Despite price-tags of up to £6,000 for new kittens, breeders report waiting lists of up to six months. The savannah, the most popular, is bred from a serval, a cheetah-like wildcat found in Africa. It can grow three times larger than a domestic cat and can jump 7ft vertically.
Another breed to have arrived in Britain is the safari, produced by mating a domestic cat with a South American Geoffroy’s Cat. There are also plans by breeders to import the caracat, descended from a caracal, a lynx-like wildcat found in the Middle East and Africa. The savannah is banned in some US states and in Australia, where there were concerns it could kill koalas.
In Britain, the “first generation” of savannah and safari cats descended from wildcats can only be kept under licence and in outdoor cages, in accordance with the Dangerous Wild Animals Act (DWAA). Subsequent generations, however, can be kept as normal pets.
The breeds are not recognised by the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy, the feline equivalent of the Kennel Club. John Hansson, its chairman, said: “Our policy dictates that we should not be recognising any more breeds that have actual wildcats in their background because of the instability and the element of the unknown.”
Peter Neville, an expert in pet behaviour from the Feline Advisory Bureau (FAB), said: “Cats are predators. I wouldn’t be happy with a savannah around a small child, because of their genes and their size.
“They are going to do a lot more damage than a normal domestic cat. Their paws are bigger, they are stronger and they will bite deeper. Just because you can tame one, doesn’t mean you can tame all.”Claire Bessant, from the FAB, said: “This is a scary trend. The savannah is a big cat that is close to the wild. We are introducing something that is likely to have issues and it worries me a lot.”
An RSPCA spokesman said: “The savannah cat is likely to exhibit a range of temperamental characteristics from both domestic cats and the wildcat species, and as such could prove to be dangerous.”Beth Skillings, from Cats Protection, said: “Any new wildcat hybrid is likely to retain traits related to its wildcat ancestry.”The Savannah Cat Club of Great Britain (SCCGB) warns owners that the animals should not be left alone with young children – but adds that this should apply with all breeds of cat.
Other owners warn that if the cats do not receive “24/7” attention for the first, formative weeks, they can turn feral.
However, Donna Peynado, president of the club, said the savannah was a suitable pet. “They are astounding, absolutely adorable creatures and I would fight tooth and nail for them,” she added.
“We always advise never ever leave a cat alone with a child under five. For the sake of the cat and the child as well. But there are no more safety concerns than for any other breeds.”In the wild, servals mostly live off rodents, but they have been observed taking gazelles and springboks. They have a top speed of 50mph and weigh up to 55lbs. The savannah can grow up to 35lb – compared with around 10lb for a typical cat.
The animal was bred in the United States in the 1980s and is thought to have first arrived in Britain within the past two years. There are already thought to be up to 300 living here.
Nicola Yates, of Corfe Mullen, Dorset, owns a “second generation” savannah, Annie, which does not need to be kept under the DWAA.“She is noticeably bigger than other cats, but I don’t have any more safety concerns than I would with any cat,” she said. “If your cat is brought up to be aggressive – through abuse or neglect – then any cat, even a moggy, can turn into something quite savage.
“Obviously, if that happens with a bigger cat, then you have bigger teeth to consider.”Gaynor Jean-Louis, a cat breeder from Bromsgrove, in Worcestershire, owns a “first generation” safari cat, Mystique, which is covered by the DWAA.“I don’t consider her in the slightest bit dangerous,” she said. “She looks like a wild thing, but if you interact with her, she is very domestic.”
Another well-established cat, the Bengal, is bred from the Asian Leopard Cat but is considerably smaller and is considered domesticated.