Charity calls for ban on crossbreeding wild and domestic cats

Interesting article in The Times today.

A charity is calling for a ban on the crossbreeding of exotic African and domestic cats because of concerns that illegal breeders are keeping the wild animals in poor conditions.

So-called savannah cats, which are a cross between domestic cat and a serval, a medium-sized, large-eared species native to Africa, have been growing in popularity, partly due to social media influencers and celebrity owners such as Justin Bieber. The spotted kittens are advertised online for thousands of pounds.

The Wildheart Trust, a charity that runs an animal sanctuary on the Isle of Wight, recently rescued two servals from a house in France, both suffering from deformed and broken legs.

It said that there was growing evidence of servals and other wild cats being imported and kept in poor conditions by illegal breeders, who did not have the required licences to keep a wild animal. More than 20 servals and other wild cats were rescued across Europe last year, Wildheart said.

In Britain a Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 licence is required to keep both servals and first-generation cross species felines, but not for subsequent generations who are used for breeding with domestic cats.

Wildheart said savannah cats were not fully domesticated, and could suffer from welfare problems if kept as pets.

The charity is calling on the government to change the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, in order to ban the breeding of exotic felids with domestic cats.

Wildheart said: “The growing demand for these hybrid cats is being driven by celebrity influencers and an explosion in the unregulated sale of hybrid kittens via social media platforms. Unfortunately, this breeding, buying and selling in the UK is happening within the law.”

Lawrence Bates, Wildheart’s chief operating officer, said that first-generation savannah cats were being sold for up to £20,000, and people who bought them as pets might not realise they were fuelling an illegal trade which involved keeping wild animals in poor conditions.

“There is no place for this type of breeding in the 21st century,” he said.

“These 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.

“We have a moral responsibility to treat animals with dignity and not as commodities to be corrupted for pleasure or commercial gain. At the Wildheart Trust, we are all too aware of seeing cat species being treated despicably.

“That’s why we are calling on the UK government to tackle this issue by making this form of hybridisation illegal and to toughen up licensing laws which we believe are not fit for purpose.”

Bob Seely, Conservative MP for the Isle of Wight, is supporting Wildheart’s campaign for a change in the law and said he had written to the government, asking it to include greater protections for exotic cats in the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill.

International Cat Care, a welfare charity, said it was “very worried about the increasing number of ‘breeds’ which are being developed by crossing our domestic cat with wild cats”.

It added: “These cats are being bought by people wanting a pet with something different, but the character and behaviour of the cats are uncertain and many of them are quite large cats. Add to this the problems if they go outside and are aggressive and highly territorial to other cats, or are much more avid hunters, causing devastation to wildlife.

“What is also not considered is the welfare of the wild cats which are kept for breeding, the danger for the domestic cats which are mated to the wild cats and the welfare of the early generations which cannot be sold as pets but must be kept as wild cats.

“International Cat Care believes that there are plenty of lovely cats to choose from and that we should not add more hybrid cats.”

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