|Safari Cat photos: copyright Helmi Flick. Click on the thumbnails|
This is one of the rare cat breeds by my reckoning (8/10 where 10 is the most rare). This is supported by the fact that there are very few photographs of this cat breed. Fortunately, probably the best cat photographer, Helmi Flick, has photographed this cat and they are reproduced here with her kind permission. Also two Safari Cat breeders have kindly agreed to let me use their photographs and some are reproduced here. You’ve got the best cat pictures again.
Lets’ make not mistake about this special cat breed; it is a stupendous and exotic cat and very few people own one. There are apparently no more than about 70 registered with The International Cat Association – TICA – (src: Marechal Cattery as at late 2007). This cat is said to be the “Rolls Royce” of exotic cats (wild/domestic hybrid) and there are a number of such cat breeds. The best known are the Bengal, Chausie and Savannah cats. A lesser known wild/domestic cat hybrid is for example the Alpine Lynx.
Photo above: F1 Safari Cat – Copyright Marechal Cattery. Please click thumbnail for larger format.
The Safari cat is a hybrid cross between the wild Geoffroy’s cat and the Domestic Shorthair (of various types depending on the outcome desired). Sometimes it is Geoffroy’s cat x Bengal cat. They were originally bred back in the 1970’s for use in Leukemia research by Washington State University (but please see below).
Similar research into feline leukemia was carried out with the Asian Leopard Cat (ALC – the wild parent of the Bengal cat) as this wild cat has allegedly a partial immunity to feline leukemia. A physician was breeding them with domestic cats and agreed to let Mrs Mills the breed founder adopt the cat. You can read more about the beginning of the Bengal breed here (the conventional version) or here (the critical version). The beginnings of the Bengal and Safari cats are therefore similar in both what happened and when it happened (see below).
Geoffroy’s cat is a small South American wild cat related to the Ocelot. In the north of South America, Geoffroy’s cat commonly has a brown/yellow coat color. In the south the coat is grey. Geoffroy’s cat is named after the 19th century French zoologist and naturalist Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hillaire, who discovered that this wild cat was a separate species.
The author of the Wikipedia article says that there have been attempts to breed this cat with the domestic cat “with very little success”. Some success, though, has occurred.
Above: Marechal Xotica F1 Safari cat Dark spotted, powerful build, 17lbs
The difficulty in breeding the Safari cat arises because the Geoffroy’s cat has 36 chromosomes while a domestic cat has 38 chromosomes (see below – Chromosomes). The breeding program started before the Bengal breed began. Bengals were first bred in 1975.
The Safari Cat was first bred in the early 1970. However, due to difficulties encountered in the breeding program (see below) interest waned. The huge success of the Bengal cat indicated the public’s interest in exotic cats. This “kick started” the breeding program. An important point needs to be made.
Apparently, the first generation hybrids (F1s) have a “calm temperament” (src: Sarah Hartwell). The breeder at Select Exotic says that the F1s are “delightfully gentle creatures”.
This is clearly important for buyers. Select Exotics (see the link at base of page) sell F1s. They say that they are 50% Safari (i.e. 50% wild Geoffroy’s cat) but have as a goal 75% wild cat Safaris. This goal is in line with what breeders see as the customer’s requirements (my thoughts). These are to produce as near as possibly a wild cat with the temperament of a pet.
It would seem that the more wild blood in the F1 Safaris the bigger they are (reaching 36 lbs for the 75% wild blood Safaris). The larger size approaches the wild cat size. This is desirable but brings considerations for the cat’s human caretaker. Once a successful mating takes place the result is that the offspring weigh more than either of the parents. This cat weighs in at about 25lbs (male) and up to 18lbs (female). Your average domestic cat weighs about 7-14lbs. The Geoffroy’s cat weighs about 5-10 lbs and occasionally bigger. See largest domestic cat breed for a size comparison of the domestic breeds and between domestic and wild cats.
The Safari is then a big domestic cat. The large size of the F1 offspring is put down to the mating of a cat with 36 chromosomes with a cat having 38 chromosomes. This somewhat mirrors what Bengal breeders when they say that the F1 Bengals have an added level of vigor.
Above: Marechal Xtreme, F1 Safari cat, brown toned spotted. Full sister to Xotica above, weighs 16.4lbs
The first generation hybrid offspring have 37 chromosomes. 19 of the chromosomes come from the Domestic Cat and the remainder from the Geoffroy’s Cat. The males are infertile (same as for the Bengal and Savannah, both wild/domestic hybrids). The female F1s however are fertile. The males are sold as pets as a consequence, while the females become breeding cats. The F1s tend to be large (desirable) while the F2s and beyond are more the size of the domestic cat. F2s have either 37 or 38 chromosomes.
I am sure that breeders of this cat would agree that only a person or persons who fully understand what it means to adopt a cat of this type should do so. In that way the cat is protected. The prospective adopter should research and understand all the pros and cons.
Above: F1 Safari Cat Jungle Mountain Exotics click on thumbnail for larger image..
There are some moral/environmental issues surrounding the breeding of hybrids such as the Safari Cat. My thoughts on this are that as long as all those who partake (breeders and buyers) have a highly responsible approach and take into account the wider issues then it’s OK. The wider issues are for example (a) the welfare of the cats involved (b) the environmental issues – the impact on wild cats.
Cat lovers might like to know that this cat seems to have been used in medical research on more than one occasion. In 1994-5, Safari cats were used to study the behavior of blood forming stem cells in “large animals”. Six cats were used (the researchers state the number of cats like this: (n=6)). The research lead some Safari cats to become pancytopenic – A pronounced reduction of white blood cells, platelets and red cells in the blood. This is normally due to chemotherapy or disease. It seems that the cats were “irradiated”. These cats were “sacrificed”.
Please click on the following link to go to a world list of breeders.
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