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Savannah cats are the name given to the offspring of a domestic cat and a serval — a medium-sized, large-eared wild African cat. The unusual cross became popular among breeders at the end of the 20th century, and in 2001 the International Cat Association accepted it as a new registered breed. Savannahs are much more social than typical domestic cats, and they are often compared to dogs in their loyalty. They can be trained to walk on a leash and even taught to play fetch.
Bengal breeder Judee Frank crossbred a male Serval, belonging to Suzi Woods, with a Siamese (domestic cat) to produce the first Savannah cat (named Savannah) on April 7, 1986. Frank’s Savannah attracted the interest of Patrick Kelley, who purchased one of Savannah’s kittens in 1989. Kelley was one of the first enthusiasts who worked towards establishing a new domestic breed based on a Serval/domestic cat cross. He approached many Serval breeders to help in the development of this new breed, and finally garnered the help of breeder Joyce Sroufe to work with him in taking the steps needed to have the new breed recognized.
In 1996, Patrick Kelley and Joyce Sroufe wrote the original version of the Savannah breed standard, and presented it to the board of The International Cat Association (TICA). In 2001, the board accepted the breed for registration.
The serval (pronounced /ˈsɜrvəl/), Leptailurus serval, is a medium-sized African wild cat. Modern molecular DNA analysis indicates that servals maintain their own unique lineage descending from the same Felid ancestor as the lion, and though the serval shares common traits with the cheetah, it is the cheetah which is thought to have descended from ancient servals. Similar DNA studies have shown the African golden cat and the caracal are closely related to the serval, and may have branched by cross-breeding.