PONCA CITY — Savannahs, a unique breed of cat with a wild look and domestic personality, are attracting people from all over the world to a farm near this northern Oklahoma city. Visitors to A1 Savannahs have included movie stars and famous athletes, as well as regular folks, searching for a furry companion that might raise an eyebrow or two. The cats, which are bred from wild African servals, can be as big as a toddler, pounce 7-feet in the air and run alongside their owner. On a recent afternoon at the rural farm, owned by Martin and Kathrin Stucki, dozens of cats sauntered back and forth in their cages. They feasted on raw chicken legs and, when taunted, playfully batted at a feather dangling from a stick. As she held an 8-month-old Savannah for a photo, stretching out the female cat to show how long she is, Kathrin Stucki marveled: "I love her face. She has that wild face.”
Where it beganThe former owner of the facility, Joyce Sroufe, is known as the original founder of the Savannah breed for crossing an African serval with a domestic cat. She registered the first litter in 1994. Now, the Stuckis breed servals with Savannahs, as well as Savannahs with each other, and rate the kittens by how much wild blood they contain. An F1, for example, is 50 to 75 percent wild and the largest in the breed. An F2 is more domesticated — about 25 percent wild and a little smaller. An F5 is about the size of a domestic cat but retains enough wild genes to give it the desired look, said Kathrin Stucki. "I think they are breathtakingly beautiful. They are unlike any cat out there,” she said. Those ratings also determine their price. A rare F1 costs $15,000 to $20,000; an F2 costs $8,000 to $9,000. Even an F5 costs $1,000. Potential size attracts many people to the Savannahs. Scarlett’s Magic, a female F1 Savannah, was recently included in the Guinness Book of World Records as the "tallest domestic cat” for measuring 17.1 inches from floor to shoulder. Kathrin Stucki said servals are known as the most docile of the wild cats, and Savannahs lose much of their wild traits during breeding. The cats are high-energy and can walk on a leash; they also can be litterbox trained and eat regular cat food (but they enjoy treats like raw meat). Norman resident Trevor Hamman has two cats from A1 Savannahs: Hank, an F2, and his playmate, Loki, an F4. Hank loves water and actually will join him in the shower if he doesn’t close the door. He can open cabinets and has a 7-foot vertical jump. Hank weighs 27 pounds and, stretched out, measures about 4 feet long, Hamman said. He resembles a small bobcat. "He does look a little wild. But that’s part of what makes them so beautiful,” he said.
No permit neededStates differ on what animals they allow residents to have as pets. In Oklahoma, only wildlife native to the state require a permit if they are kept as a pet, so Savannah owners have no licensing requirements beyond those for a domestic cat. A1 Savannahs is licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture. Random inspections of the facility have turned up no violations, according to the agency. Kathrin Stucki said some people may question whether the animals are dangerous or criticize them as a "designer breed.” The cross does occur in nature, although rarely, she said. The Stuckis don’t use artificial insemination or hormones to facilitate breeding between the cats. Instead, they pair two they think will make a good match in a cage and see what happens. The servals are especially picky, and sometimes it takes a few tries to find them a suitable mate, Kathrin Stucki said. Though visitors to the farm are warned of the dangers of the animals, and asked to sign a waiver, Martin Stucki said he hasn’t been scratched. The Stuckis, who emigrated from Switzerland six years ago to run the cattery, pride themselves on their animals. "People think ‘Oh my God, a kitty mill.’ But we’re different,” said Kathrin Stucki. Though there are other Savannah breeders, including at least one other in Oklahoma, the Stuckis’ facility boasts the widest gene pool in the world, she said. And they guarantee socialization with other animals as well as children. "We don’t have another job. We spend all day with the cats,” Kathrin Stucki said. But she wouldn’t have it any other way. Stucki, who obtained a visa for extraordinary ability for her knowledge of animal breeding and is working on a veterinary medicine degree, recalled laughing when her husband recently bought a lottery ticket. "What would we do if we won?” she asked him. "I wouldn’t do anything differently.”