Friday, May 20, 2005

Are Bengals Too Mundane Now?

The New York Times recently published an article on Savannahs in New York that appears to be causing a bit of a kerfluffle. The Savannah is a cat breed that's sort of like the Bengal, as it's a hybrid of a domestic cat with a wild cat species. But the Savannah's wild parentage comes from the African Serval.

The Savannah is bigger than the Bengal, much more expensive, and not the sort of thing you want to keep in a Manhattan apartment - if for no other reason than the fact that they're illegal in New York City. The article describes owners going to great lengths to conceal their cats from neighbors who might complain to the city. It also describes what looks like a thriving black market, with people having to wait more than a year to pay $5,000 for a kitten and then being afraid to tell their friends where they live.

Now this is clearly a screwed up situation. But I'm more concerned about the impact publicity could have on public perceptions of hybrid cats. The Times notes that the Savannah is gaining in popularity on the Bengal. Says an Oklahoma Savannah breeder, "Bengals were the rage for a long time, but then people wanted something bigger."

It was hard enough gaining acceptance for the Bengal. They're still legally questionable in some places. And a Discovery Channel piece a couple months ago about rescued Bengals from a breeding operation that got out of control had people approaching Bengal owners on the street and chiding them for having such dangerous animals near their children. We don't need to start this up again with a bigger, more exotic cat.

I've nothing against Savannahs or the people who love them. But I do worry about people keeping them in inappropriate situations. If Leela weighed 35 pounds, we would not be keeping her in our townhouse, much less a postage-stamp New York apartment. And I worry about these situations - or whatever comes along after people decide the Savannah isn't big and exotic enough - causing trouble for breeds that have supposedly already cleared up those misconceptions.


At May 25, 2005 at 2:00 AM, Blogger Rene said...

Well, Savannahs becoming more fashionable is a good thing for the Bengal cat breed. Too many "breeders" were ruining the breed altogether. Hopefully only people who want to improve the breed will continue (IMO the only true breeders, the others are just "multipliers").

I've heard that Savannahs have to be raised in an incubater the first couple of weeks and that infertility is a problem even in F6 (6 generations after a Serval was paired to a domestic cat), while in Bengals this is only until F2/F3. This has all to do with the difference in gestation time and the obvious size difference between domestics cats and Servals. Savannahs still have a high mortality rate at birth. This also explains why they are so expensive (besides their exclusivity).

Did you also know that many Bengals have intestinal problems, just because they derive from a different species of cat. Especially Bengals that aren't far removed from the Asian tigercat are not so tolerant for cat food normally sold in supermarkets.

Bengal cats are different from other domestic cats in more ways than one. I think they actually need specially formulated catfood. I can't give my Rasheed (F6 Bengal) canned food every day, or he gets diarrhoea. I get the best results from Royal Canin Fit 32. Of course, my Rasheed doesn't represent all Bengal cats, but I've heard this complaint by other owners and breeders as well, so I guess it is true for most Bengal cats.

At May 26, 2005 at 6:33 PM, Blogger T - Another Geek Girl said...

Came here from blogexplosion.
Really enjoyed my visit.

At January 24, 2006 at 4:11 PM, Blogger Carla said...

The weight of the Savannah shouldn't be an issue. There are many Maine Coons and Norwegian Forest cats in the 30- 40 pound range. Male Bengals can be 14 - 20 pounds depending on their lineage and distance from wild parentage. The concern with a Savannah is its height and its speed. A Savannah is as tall as a standard poodle and can jump up to 9ft in the air. There are discrepancies in how fast they move but it will beat you average dog.

There are only 1000 Savannahs "reputably" in existence in the USA. This low number is a contributor to cost, health and behavior. The breed is still in development. The Savannah is a cross between a African Serval and a Bengal (supposedly of domestic class). These two types of cats are dramatically different, more so than an Asian LEOPARD cat and a domestic cat. (It is comparable to crossing a baboon to a spider monkey.) The gestation period is 10 days longer in the Serval so incubation can become necessary to aid the "premature" birth in survival. Also, the Serval Hybridization can be 1 - 5 kits per litter. The Bengal is normally only 1-3. Risk of medical issues are as high or higher in Savannah cross breeding process. The litter is more likely to reach a full 73 day gestation if the litter is controled to a 1 - 3 kit population.

At this point there have not been 55 years of breeding Savannahs as is the history of Bengals so the gene pool is still very "wild" in its nature and behavior. Savannahs can be fantastic cats if you have the patience and tempermant to deal with an exotic animal. Those who don't and just bought a "fur", or "trend" are doing a disservice to themselves and, more importantly, the future of the breed.

Bengals. Bengals have many genetic disorders. IBS is highly common as are allergies, and intestinal problems. They may have spinal bifida, a hole in the heart, blindness, deafness, brain damage, shunted livers, underdeveloped kidneys, deformed hips and legs, and a host of other illnesses. Genetic illness can be expected in a cat that is hybridized. You may not hear about these afore mentioned problems because most cats of hybridization are deformed enough to die at birth or by the fourteenth day. Alternatively, the mother may eat the kitten at birth, or a breeder may put down the unhealthy kitten of a first generation cross. Those that make it are stunning with "minor" health an behavior issues. Many of the Bengal litters are only 2 kittens in the first three generations. ONLY the female is capable, reproductively speaking, until the fourth generation (F4). You are correct that a Savannah male could be sterile until the 7th generation F7.

A Domestic (SBT) Bengal that is well bred and well removed from the Asian Leopard Cat will be domestic in its behavior. Higher energy, extreme intelligence, lovable, and a playful/trainable companion. A foundation level Bengal (F1 to F4) is likely to behave more like an Asian Leopard Cat. It might not be housetrainable. I know this first hand, I worked for three years to house train my F2 male. It will be more nocturnal in nature. It will YOWL, sounding like a screaming child, at all times of day and night. WHY? It may be lonely, hunger, wanting to play, wanting to mate, angry at being "ignored", or just liking the sound of its voice. It will need a diet higher in protein than fibre.. no wait, it might be the other way around, IT DEPENDS ON YOUR cat if it has more wild or domestic type of digestion. Most Bengals do best on a sensitive digestion diet such as Royal Canin special 33. They do very poorly on corn fillers and chicken by products. They adore being fed partly cooked or raw meat and vegetables.

The Bengal has not lost its "punch", it is what is has always been. NOT all who can or think they can should own a hybrid animal. These animals are a large time commitment. They require alot of love, bonding, socialization, and training. They need to be exercised regularly. They are not a "house" cat.

I agree with the high "sticker price" on these animals, if for nothing else than a deterant to the average consumer. In addition, I wish breeders would educate and control the placement of all cats - pet and breed/show quality more. Less reputable breeders get their starter stock from somewhere and most of them don't own a serval or a USDA license to breed. Some so called reputable breeder provided them a cat. The responsibility for the proper care, developement of breeder, and placement of these cats is in the hands of the breed developers and the controls they use and monitor to keep there breeding pool reputable. The Savannah will need space to run, is not an inner city animal and never should be.


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