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Endangered Species & Wild Animals

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Wildside: Feline Hybrids (Cat Hybrids)

Feline hybrids (cat hybrids) do not make good pets. The breeding of animal hybrids does not help wild cats. Learn how to become an armchair conservationist in this series of articles here at the Ark Animals Wildside.

Editor's Note: This article combines commentary on a variety of feline crosses. The original article was published in 1997. For those concerned about the listing of Pixie-Bobs, allegedly means that at the time this article was written, claims were not substantiated (or disproved) regarding heritage of "legend" or "foundation" animals.

Just what is a feline hybrid or cat hybrid?
Most feline hybrids are unnatural crosses between wild and domestic cats.

  • Chausie is a feline hybrid of the Jungle Cat (Felis chaus).
  • Safari cat is a feline hybrid of the Geoffroy cat (Oncifelis geoffroyi).

  • Pixie-bob is allegedly a feline hybrid of the Bobcat (Lynx rufus).
  • Bengal cat is a feline hybrid of the Asian Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis).
  • Savannah is a feline hybrid of the Serval (Leptailurus serval).
  • Big cat feline hybrids:
    • Liger (hybrid of a male lion and female tiger)
    • Tigon (hybrid of a male tiger and female lion)

Feline Hybrids: What is the Fascination?

Feline hybrids (cat hybrids) are a trend. Why is it that many people will protest the sale of the pelts of those exotic cats found worldwide, but will fall for the promotion and want to buy exotic felid hybrids? The canid hybrid situation is tough enough, but the felid hybrid situation presents some of the same problems in a less obvious manner.

We are fascinated by wild animals and have this tremendous desire to "connect" with them in some way. Unfortunately the trade and focus occurring in the private propagation and sale of any hybrid does not contribute to proper conservation and understanding of any of the true wild animals. True conservation and preservation of any species involves several different routes of effort. Habitat conservation, promotion of understanding of the animal and its role in the environment, responsible management and the abolishment of trade, are a few of the more realist roles that do make a difference to many of those endangered or threatened animals.

It is a sad situation to deal with owners who buy these hybrid animals and then have to relinquish them to shelters, euthanize them because they cannot adapt, or worse. This problem is not unique to that of hybrid ownership either. Each year the domestic pet population skyrockets with thousands of domestic animals that end up being killed due to the lack of owner commitment, profit-oriented breeding by uninformed backyard breeders, and the continued trade and commerce of these animals and hybrids. There is also the same problem in the exotic animal ownership realm. All these problems end up surfacing in the animal sheltering and control industry. These challenges are something our communities should take seriously and work at solving.

Wild cats have attracted our attention with their beauty and their wildness like no other animal has. The attraction to these wild animals has created an allure that generated trade and legends worldwide. Humans like to profit from such fascination and people have been marketing crosses between the wild beast and the domesticated cat; this has created another nightmare for those dealing with animal related issues and behavior problems. These crosses cannot be guaranteed for temperament and often have specialized nutritional and behavioral needs--and you usually never know what you are going to get.

People love the coats of the wild cats, so they want to find an animal that has the look and bring it into the household. So, that is how the market was born! The motivating factors to obtain these pets are highly varied: Some people view them as status symbols while others own and breed them for financial reasons --marketing animals regardless of breeding, socialization, or heath considerations. Many breeders, who understand some of the difficulties, will advocate hand-rearing the kits from the ages of two to three weeks to help them be more social and amiable towards their new owners; it still is no guarantee that they will be.

For some reason many unsuspecting buyers think that these animals are going to be adoring and amiable pets --most often they are not. No matter what people think, the hybrid is not an animal that will help perpetuate the species of wild cat. Selfish human motives continue to harm animal species with a global impact. The bottom line is that they are not good pets and they require more care and understanding than the average household can provide.

True felid hybrids are a bit harder to define than some of the canid hybrids. They are often crosses of the Asian Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), Jungle Cat (Felis chaus), Geoffroy's Cat (Oncifelis geoffroyi), Serval (Leptailurus serval), and the Bobcat (Lynx rufus). In most cases, the founder animals (animals from the wild or wild genetic pool) contribute to trade that harms the animal in the country of origin.

There are various types of repercussions that the hybrid crosses face. Genetically the physical complications include such things as sterility, birth defects, unique nutritional needs, and temperament instability. Many of the animals being bred cannot be integrated easily into the household or with other animals.

In the home environment, many hybrids will enjoy being active at early morning and evening hours --if not mainly at night. Many will not be very affectionate and often will stealthy move around the house. They usually do not adapt to new situations well and have a higher defense and predatory behavior drive than our domestic critters.

The commitment to a hybrid or a wild animal is a major one in comparison to a domestic animal. As with canid hybrids, having an approved vaccine for rabies for felid hybrids is another concern that the veterinary community feels needs to be addressed. These animals will also have higher needs for taurine than domestic cats, and often have genetic abnormalities that are not beneficial and that conflict with the natural selection geared toward the "survival of the fittest."

Felid hybrids are not allowed in only a few states that have specific legislation geared toward them; however regulation is difficult since it is hard to accurately identify these hybrids if you are not familiar with them. Even with the best of preparation, the challenges associated with hybrid ownership go far beyond the average pet owners skill and tolerance. Most hybrid animals will have unique socialization and rearing needs to give them an edge to adapting into a new household. There is still no guarantee that they will adapt.

Hybrids tend to weigh more and to be much larger than the average cat. Often they are much more developed in their musculature and strength. There are a variety of different hybrids: Chausies are a Jungle Cat cross; Savannahs are a Serval cross; Bengals are a Asian Leopard cat cross; Pixie-bob is an alleged Bobcat cross; there are more out there, but these are the most popular.

The evolution of each species of exotic feline has produced unique and specialty animals. True domestication takes thousands of years to accomplish and our domestic cats are thought to have been companions to man about half the time that dogs have. Human interference into this process focuses on specific traits that make our domestic animals amiable to living with or working for us. In only the best situations are they selectively bred for both strong physical and psychological traits.

Some breeders will call only the first three generations hybrids, but you cannot pinpoint what the percentage is that is genetically inherited predictably. Some also claim that records for intentional hybrid crosses have been said to have been found in the late 1800's, but it was also legal to own a wild or exotic cat into this century. It was not too long ago when Ocelots and Marguays were found in pet shops; that trade had a severe impact on the decimation of those species! The popularity of hybrids seems to have surged since about the time some of the regulations about owning exotics began to surface.

Hybrids, exotics, or wild cats are not recommended as pets. Exotics will have special housing needs and many previous owners of these critters find that they were fully unprepared for the bundle of energy that turns into a large feline with tremendous strength, appetite, and instincts for survival. Too many times have I seen the anger in those animals raised poorly and abandoned or rescued. There are not enough "animal dumpsites" around even though they are springing up around the nation. Rickets and other types of nutritional diseases, deformities and reproductive problems are just a few of the heart-wrenching sights seen personally.

If you are intent on purchasing a hybrid or an exotic we would encourage you to spend the time searching for the reason why you would want to do so. Spend even more time researching the animals and getting around them. Most exotics need permits and have special needs. Hybrids have distinct needs too. Contact the national conservation feline groups before you contact the national cat associations or breed groups and ask their opinion about the hybrid trade. Also contact the humane groups and talk to them about the concerns involving hybrids.

If you are still not convinced and insist on contacting the national cat associations and breed groups, make sure you actually spend some time around older animals of the breed. Don't just see one or two, see a wide variety and talk to others who have purchased the animals within a couple of years to find out how they have adapted. We discourage you from buying or supporting the trade of these animals, but if you do --get all the facts and do all the preparation you can.

About this animal expert: Since 1978 Diana L. Guerrero has worked professionally with both wild and domestic animals. Guerrero has been affiliated with, and certified by, a variety of animal programs in the USA and Europe. Based in California, she writes, consults, and speaks. Information on her animal career programs, training courses, and her books {What Animals Can Teach Us about Spirituality (SkyLight Paths, 2003), Blessing of the Animals (Sterling, 2007), Help! My Pet is Driving Me Crazy (Guerrero Ink, 2007), Animal Disaster Preparedness for Pet Owners & Pet Professionals (Guerrero Ink, 2007)} can be found in this web site and in the shop. Questions for Guerrero should be submitted via the blog comments or membership forum.


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