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Exotic hybrid cats under attack

A serval bred to a domestic cat produces the Savannah hybrid cat.
Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The latest attack on exotic pet ownership is happening in California, with a petition to restrict hybrid cats. Most common are the Savannah cats, a cross between a serval and a domestic cat. Another commonly kept hybrid is the Bengal cat, a cross between an Asian leopard cat and a domestic cat. There is no similarity to a tiger, other than being a feline, even though the word "bengal" conjures thoughts of the very distantly related bengal tiger.

As reported by 89.3 KPCC, southern California radio, four big cat sanctuaries and ALDF, Animal Legal Defense Fund, are petitioning the state to eventually stop ownership of the hybrid cats. Grandfathering is most often so restrictive it causes the loss of the pets - usually to a donation funded sanctuary - which is exactly part of the claimed problem. It makes little sense to inflict stringent laws causing the inability to keep much loved pets, with care funded by the owners, to donation only funded sanctuaries claiming overcrowding. Thousands of dollars paid to acquire a pet does not usually end in "abandonment" or release into the neighboring area. Illogical claims are often made by special interest groups with little supporting evidence, but much emotional propaganda and anecdotal incidences used for political influence.

The serval is kept by many pet owners successfully and ranges from 20 to 40 pounds, is bred domestically and the appearance is often compared to a small leopard for their fur pattern. The hybrid Savannah is generally smaller, retaining some of the more dog-like qualities of the serval, and recognized by TICA, The International Cat Association, since 2001.

The Asian leopard cat, while not as different in appearance from the common domestic cat, is used to produce the Bengal hybrid. Just as there are Persian, Siamese and other cat breeds, the hybrids are simply another breed with distinct qualities preferred by the owner. The exaggerated risk is easily seen when the true history of the different breeds is researched. Ancient Egyptian history contains reference to servals, while bengal cats are referenced in writing as far back as 1889 in a book, Our Cats and All About Them by Harrison Weir.

West Virginia also lists hybrid cats in their recent legislation concerning pet ownership. There are no statistics to support claims of hybrid cats being dangerous.

Laws requiring expensive insurance and other unnecessary regulations cause many owners to relinquish pets, which would otherwise have the life-long home touted as a sign of responsible ownership. On one hand, some claim owners are not committed to keeping their pets, yet push for legislative change to cause people to be unable to keep their pets. It appears to be a Catch-22 with the only result satisfying some groups is none.