Putting an end to the practice of breeding exotic felids with domestic cats in the UK

In 2021 we launched our SERVIVAL campaign to ban the breeding of exotic felids with domestic cats within the UK. Of particular concern is the breeding of Servals, exotic felids native to Africa, with domestic cats to produce the Savannah cat.

Motivated by the ‘designer pet’ trade and fuelled by social media, the breeding of exotic felids and domestic cats (to produce F1 hybrids) should have no place in the 21st century. It is no less cruel than breeding a wolf with a poodle.

This practice is an escalating problem, evidenced by the dramatic rise in rescues of F1 hybrid cats and servals from 2021. We have a moral responsibility to treat animals with dignity and not as commodities to be corrupted for pleasure or commercial gain.

Urgent legislative action to make this form of hybridisation illegal will prevent the suffering of individual animals caught up in this trade and mitigate against future threats to wild populations of exotic felids.

The Wildheart Animal Sanctuary has over 40 years of experience caring for exotic felids. We see first-hand the physical and psychological damage inflicted on animals at the hands of humans. As such, we feel passionate about preventing further suffering.

In 2023 the Wildheart Trust launched World Serval Day to raise awareness for the plight that servals face worldwide.

serval up in a tree branch ready to pounce down

Campaign Timeline

Late 2019 – The Wildheart Trust are made aware of two Serval kittens that were in an apartment in France and start making preparations to bring them to their forever home on the Isle of Wight.

July 2021 – SERVIVAL campaign is launched by The Wildheart Trust.

November 2021 – Rescued servals Xirus and Tafkap arrive at the Wildheart Animal Sanctuary.

February 2022 – Our Servals are made famous by ITV This Morning TV vet Scott Millar.

March 2022 – The Wildheart Trust meets with DEFRA to outline the issue and seek a resolution.

April 2022 – Work begins with local MP Bob Seely and Lord Randall of Uxbridge to submit proposed amendments to the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill to:

  1. Ban the hybridization of exotic felids with domestic cats in the UK (which produces hybrid cats such as the savannah cat)
  2. Ban the import of hybrid cats from F1 to F4 generations

May 2022 – The Wildheart Trust escalates the SERVIVAL campaign with pieces in The Guardian, Metro, and The Times.

July 2022 – The Wildheart Trust delivers a petition signed by 15,000 people to 10 Downing Street calling for a ban on hybridising exotic cats.

March 2023World Serval Day is launched by The Wildheart Trust.

January 2024 – SERVIVAL campaign appears in BBC Wildlife Magazine online.

Our Rescued Servals

In November 2021 we rehomed two male Servals called Tafkap and Xirus. These Servals were rescued from a small apartment in France by AAP (Animal Advocacy and Protection). 

Smuggled out of the Czech Republic as part of the illegal pet trade, these wild cats were stripped from their mother at an early age and were just 16 weeks old when discovered. They were kept in a bathroom and bedroom, isolated and terrified and were suffering many injuries including deformed and broken bones.

These animals are just a small part of the rapidly increasing trade in exotic cats to support our desire for trophy pets. Most owners of Savannah cats will be blissfully unaware that the very act of buying and owning this breed is fuelling animal suffering.

Facts & Figures

There are 259 small and medium exotic cats or F1 hybrids registered as pets in the UK*. A large number of these cats are used for breeding, producing hybrids such as the Savannah cat.

The Savannah cat breed was only recognised in 2001 and since then there has been a surge in its popularity as a trophy pet, with F1 hybrids fetching up to £20,000 per kitten.

The popularity of the Savannah cat is booming with unregulated adverts for hybrid kittens appearing across popular selling sites, chat rooms and social media channels including Facebook.

The practice of hybridisation often leads to poor welfare and horrendous conditions for the animals involved. This is evidenced by a 2000% increase in rescued exotic felids at our partner organisation Animal Advocacy & Protection (AAP) over the last two years**.

The Wildheart Animal Sanctuary has provided a forever home for two Servals rescued from the illegal pet trade who were found locked in tiny rooms suffering from deformed and broken legs.

In Context: The UK Regulatory Landscape

The UK is trailing other countries in regard to regulating hybrid exotic felids. Many others already ban Savannah hybrids as they are deemed a danger to domestic wildlife and the public.

Current UK legislation does not regulate the hybridisation of exotic felids with domestic cats. Nor does it sufficiently regulate the advertising or selling of kittens from such breeding. Additionally, there are insufficient laws regarding husbandry for these animals. This results in them legally being kept in sub-standard accommodation by unqualified personnel.

Campaigning for Change

We met with MP Bob Seely at the Sanctuary in November 2021. Bob has pledged his support for this campaign and along with Lord Randall is helping to fight our cause in Parliament. The Sanctuary is seeking out legislative change that suitably regulates this trade. This would include the banning of breeding an exotic felid with a domestic cat in the UK, and stricter import regulations. In addition, we are asking for strict permits to cover the husbandry requirements for Exotic felids and F1 hybrids kept in private residences.

Pictured: Wildheart Animal Sanctuary COO - Lawrence Bates, Wildheart Trustee - Charlotte Corney, Isle of Wight MP - Bob Seely
Pictured: Wildheart Animal Sanctuary COO – Lawrence Bates, Wildheart Founder – Charlotte Corney, Isle of Wight MP – Bob Seely

The Serval

The Serval, an exotic felid native to Africa, is illegal to own in the UK without a Dangerous Wild Animals (DWA) license. Licensing requirements are under-regulated.

First-generation or F1 Savannah cats are illegal to own without a DWA license. It is unlikely that the average cat owner can obtain such a license.

For more information, download our SERVIVAL flyer to find out more about our campaign.