Part-wild hybrid ‘designer’ cats could be banned in UK

Growing fashion for ‘designer pets’ causes ‘untold harm and long-term damage to feline species’, say rescuers

Jane Dalton
Friday 18 February 2022 12:44 GMT
<p>Savannah cats are traded for thousands of pounds</p>

Savannah cats are traded for thousands of pounds

Pet cats similar to the one kicked and hit by footballer Kurt Zouma could be banned in the UK to protect their welfare and try to preserve populations of wild felines.

The government is considering action to halt cross-breeding of domestic cats with their exotic cousins, which could include a licensing system.

Breeds that are part-wildcat have become highly fashionable among people who want “designer pets”, in part thanks to social media accounts featuring or promoting the animals.

Savannahs, a cross between a domestic cat and a serval, a wild African cat, reportedly change hands for up to £16,000 in the UK.

Sales of the animals on social media are legal but unregulated, and some were being advertised online for more than £2,000 this week.

But conservationists say their popularity is threatening wild felines, which may be snatched from their habitats to be bred for the trade.

And animal welfare experts say private homes are too stressful for first-generation hybrids.

The Wildheart Trust, with the backing of television nature star Chris Packham, has launched a campaign for a legal ban on the breeding of exotic felids with domestic cats, a practice that they say causes “untold harm and long-term damage to feline species”.

“Hybrid cats may appear cute and cuddly, but they are derived from a wild species and should certainly not be kept as pets in people’s homes,” said a trust spokesperson.

“Of particular concern is the breeding of servals, an exotic wildcat native to Africa, with domestic cats to create the Savannah cat.

“This is no less abhorrent than breeding a wolf with a poodle, and it is something we believe has no place in the 21st century.”

Rescuers say the number of exotic cats they are called on to save is surging across Europe because crossing the species often leads to poor welfare and “horrendous” conditions.

Born Free estimates 259 small and medium-sized exotic cats or first-generation hybrids are registered as pets in the UK, many of them used for breeding to produce more hybrids such as the Savannah.

With their popularity booming, adverts for hybrid kittens are common on popular selling sites, chat rooms and social media channels.

The Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018 are due to be reviewed by the government after five years, which will be next year.

A source said it would be an appropriate time to re-examine the regulations’ standards and guidance and consider changes.

They said in planning for the review, the government was gathering data to gain a picture of licensed and unlicensed activities involving animals in England.

“During this review we will consider whether there is a need to introduce licensing arrangements for cat breeders, including restrictions on the breeding of certain types of cats,” they added.

Zouma’s cat was a hybrid Bengal, a breed originally formed by crossing a domestic cat with a wild Asian leopard cat. But Bengals several generations removed from the wild leopard cat are expected to be exempt from a ban.

Generations of Savannahs range from F1 – a first-generation, whose parent was a serval - to F4.

The higher the F number, the further back the wild ancestor was, so the more diluted the wild genetics are.

In the UK, it is already illegal to own an F1 without a dangerous wild animal licence. But generations from F2 to F4 may legally be owned.

More than 343,000 people have signed an online petition calling for Zouma to be prosecuted, the RSPCA removed his cats and Adidas dropped its sponsorship of the West Ham player.

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