The pursuit of breeding a certain type of cat is not a new one and we find new breeds cropping up from time to time.  One of the newer breeds that are rapidly gaining popularity is the Savannah.  A Savannah cat is a golden or silver cat with black, bold distinct spots covering the entire body. Also, a smoke cat whose spotting highlights from underneath the coat and totally black cat with black spots.  The black Savannah’s spots show through the black to 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 (short by nature, never surgically shortened.) 

The Savannah is a result of breeding various spotted, domestic-shorthair cats to Servals. Servals are a non-domestic species of cat that live in the Savannah region of Africa.  The serval lends many of its characteristics to the Savannah. The Savannah has, as its goal, to develop a breed that looks like the serval but with fully domestic habits.  The following are the Savannah Cat History events that took place to create the very popular breed we have today.

Savannah Cat History from serval to Savannah

Savannah Cat History – Judee Frank

During an interview with Judee Frank at an International Cat show in 2003, she explained the events of the first-born Savannah kitten.  Judee had taken charge of a small and somewhat wan serval male that owned by another breeder.  She 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. She named the kitten Miracle.  She notified the original owner of Ernie. Soon Judee turned over Miracle under duress.

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 had 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.

Savannah Cat History – Suzi Mutascio

Three years later, in 1989, Suzi Mutascio reported Savannah was pregnant. She bred with a Turkish Angora named Albert II.  The Turkish Angora is a tall and lanky, long-haired, white cat developed in Anatolia.  For those who are unfamiliar with white cat genetics; white is 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 bred to other cats to determine what colors the kittens will be.

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 with most early generation Savannah breedings, the stillborn looked just like a serval.  Out of the remaining two kittens, the male was solid white and the female was a torbie which is a tabby cat with orangish (typically called red) colors mixed in. Lori Buchko came to own the F1 female. Once she had kittens, Lori sold an F2 female named Kitty and her red spotted F3 son to Patrick Kelly.

Savannah Cat History – Patrick Kelley

This leads us to Patrick Kelley’s contribution to furthering the breed.   Patrick actually saw pictures of Savannah in the Long Island Ocelot Club (L.I.O.C.) newsletter 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.  He thought this new breed might interest her.  He began communicating by phone with Joyce and went to Oklahoma twice to visit with Joyce.

Savannah Cat History – Joyce Sroufe

Joyce didn’t see the value of the breed at first.   But she finally agreed to try to produce them. Patrick assured her that he would assist in finding them good homes.  In 1994, Joyce Sroufe produced her first litter and contacted Patrick to let him know.  Patrick could not breed for F1 Savannahs in his home state of California because it was practically impossible to own a serval there and he wanted to be sure Joyce Scroufe would continue to breed Savannahs.  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 Sroufe indeed saw a true market for this new breed of cats and she agreed to breed more.  Patrick was pleased that Joyce agreed.  He continued to promote the Savannah breed to all who would listen.  Patrick still has the Savannah bug to this day.  Twenty years later Joyce still is known for producing more Savannah kittens than any other breeder. She is retired from breeding now and her cattery, F1 Savannahs has been sold twice since she retired.

In 1996 and possibly through his contact with a Bengal breeder, Karen Sausman, Patrick started the process of recognition 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 asked about Patrick Kelley,  Ms. Bowers and several others in the office said they thought Patrick was the breed “founder.” They said he first contacted the office. Then each subsequent time he was polite and asked very in-depth questions. He always did the next step and never made a pest of himself.  Ms. Bower’s help and guidance proved to be an enormous help to Patrick. He completed the first application to have the Savannah Breed accepted into the New Breed Program.

Savannah Cat History – Patrick Kelley again…

I In 1996, Patrick, with the help of Karen Sausman and Joyce Sroufe, wrote the first Savannah Standard. He then submitted it to TICA at the semi-annual Board meeting.  Unfortunately, the news was not good for the Savannah.  At that Board meeting, a two-year moratorium on any new breeds began. The TICA board decided to revamp the New Breed Program.  It was a hard blow to those of us working on the breed. 

In 1998 the board extended the moratorium 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, many lost hope of ever getting recognized as legitimate. No one knew if we would ever obtain registration. It was disheartening and frustrating.  At that time, Lorre Smith was showing Bengals in Championship. She decided to bring along some of her Savannahs to the international Labor Day show and many other shows.  The TICA President, Vice President and any judges who would handle them got to hold F1 and F2 Savannahs.  This garnered the attention of Bobbie Tullo, TICA Judge.  Bobbie became a mentor to Lorre and a great help to the breed.

Savannah Cat History – Gary Fulgham

Gary Fulgham. In 1999, Gary formed a Yahoo email group/community with the goal in mind to contact and meet other Savannah breeders who had their own Servals and their own programs and to invite them to join the group.  Gary felt as though the breeders if brought together, could share their experiences breeding the crucial F1 generation cats.  The group was a wonderful resource for what turned into the Savannah breed’s founders. 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 Sroufe, Lisa Newell, Suzie Heuning, Renae Baker, Phyllis Koch, Sandra Cassalia and Lorre Smith.  The Eighteen who did the work for the breed that we now consider commonplace to breed, register and show. Many of The Eighteen no longer breed Savannahs and yet still deserve recognition.

Savannah Cat History  – The Eighteen Founders

During the time Gary was assembling The Eighteen, several other groups of breeds also under the moratorium worked at getting their breeds known.  Bobbie Tullo helped breeds such as the Chausies, Toygers, and Serengetis.  In September of 2000 during the Annual Board meeting, the moratorium ended.  The New Breed Program began.  Lorre Smith attended that meeting and carried that information back to The Eighteen the following day.  The group was elated.

Patrick pulled out the old standard and The Eighteen had long discussions and work meetings to revamp and clarify the new Savannah Standard.  It was easier due to the head and body studies Lorre had done while working on her first book.  Lorre was also in training to become a judge and was familiar with the format needed to write the new standard.  By October Lorre Smith 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.

Once that requirement was met, one of the breeders suggested opening a new Yahoo group that was specifically for The Eighteen. New breeders beginning to breed Savannahs began to join the original group.  Our trusted group was to remain for the original eighteen and not a public forum and still exists today.  The group was growing and decided that was a good idea.

Lisa Newell suggested the name SIMBA. It stood 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 Lorre then set it into the graphics she designed.  We voted and appointed the first Board of Directors, Nicole Grieg as Treasurer, Phyllis Koch as Secretary, Arden Morley as Vice President and Lorre Smith as President.  It was also proposed and passed at that time the first Chairperson of the breed was Lorre.  It worked because of her involvement with TICA.  She already knew many of the rules; a position she held for five years in the formative years of the breed.

Savannah Cat History – Lorre Smith

February 15, 2001, the Savannah gained registration only status Joy Peel and Lorre Smith went to the meetings and presented the Serval and Savannah girls. They made a big hit.

Afrikhan Peace F2 took a stroll on top of the board’s table.  She walked very slowly and daintily right in front of every board member taking a pause in front of everyone so they could admire her and talk to her and pet her.  Almost as if she was trained to do so.  She made the entire circle around and then, moved on to show them some more Savannah cats.  They answered a lot of questions.

The vote was very close.  There were three board members who abstained from voting and three people who voted no and 8 who voted in favor of the Savannahs.  One vote enough to give the Savannah registration status.  We had strict rules to follow.  No Bengals mixed in the breed, only domestics and ALWAYS have written permission from the show manager to bring any Serval or Savannah into a show hall.

The 18 began to register their existing Savannahs with TICA right after the weekend of celebration.

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 the show rings.

Savannah Cats where allowed to Show in TICA

In October 2001, Lorre submitted the forms for Evaluation show status.  Lorre Smith and Joy Peel went again to the semi-annual meeting in Harlingen, Texas.  Lorre presented facts and figures of what our breeders accomplished.  The Savannah was unanimously accepted for exhibition only.  That meant any third generation, or lower, Savannah could then go into a show hall and exhibit.  The owner and any judge may handle and judge that Savannah. The judge may also refuse if they so chose.  This was a huge step in the right direction for our breed.

Again Lorre brought the news home to the SIMBA group.  All breeders were invited to that first show. The Savannah showed at in Oklahoma City in May of 2002 for the first time.  Nicole Grieg attended but did not bring a cat to show.  Lorre Smith brought Afrikhan Sophia and she made her debut representing the Savannah breed.  F3 Sophia, a perfectly behaved girl got rave reviews from all who judged her.  It was such a special day for the entire Savannah breed.

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

During the years that followed Lorre Smith developed and presented a Savannah seminar to Board members and spectators at least once a year per her duties of Breed Chair.  She traveled to the semi-annual and annual TICA meetings to present breed reports to the TICA Board. Many breeders attended the seminar to learn the standard.  At some of the shows, breeders would come out and show their Savannahs.

We kept very close records of who showed and that became part every breed report to the Board.  Two Moscow, Russia cat clubs invited Lorre to judge shows and to present a Savannah to the breeders there. Lorre brought a beautiful F3 Savannah and presented a Savannah breed seminar there to many interested breeders.

Savannah Cat History – Patrick Kelley started Savannah Cat dot-com

In addition, Patrick’s savannahcat.com 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 worked so hard to make this breed what it is.

Savannah Cat History – Lisa Jeffery

Lisa Jeffery, Owner of Spots On The Lake Savannahs, in Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada, singlehandedly brought the Savannah breed to acceptance in the Canadian Cat Association (CCA) in 2006.  This meant Savannahs could register and show.   She assisted in writing the Savannah Breed standard according to CCA’s rules.  Lisa worked to educate the Canadian judges on the Savannah breed.  She used the illustrations in the first edition of the Savannah book to help her do so.  Lisa is deserving of huge recognition for her accomplishment. She faced resistance and opposition in the process of yet another ground-breaking step for the Savannah breed.

Savannah Cat History – Carol Streit

Carol Streit became breed chair in 2006 and was a calm moderating force for the breed through a remodeling of 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, Germany, and Russia.  Magazines in South America, Italy, Germany, and Malaysia feature Savannah cats.

In May of 2012, the Savannah breed attained Championship status and competes against all other breeds.  At that time, a full complement of seven breed committee members began. There are now seven members.

Compared to most TICA registered breeds the Savannah cat is still in its infancy.  The Savannah breed got off to a great start thanks to a few dedicated people and their hard work. The Savannah Cat continues to gain in popularity and acceptance as breeders work on perfecting their breeding programs and their cats.

LSL

Excerpted from The Savannah Cat Book by Lorre Smith