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What's the deal with exotic hybrids?

Many people who would not think of trying to keep a wild animal as a pet are tempted to buy a hybrid cat. These cats are crosses between wild and domestic cats and are both elegant and exotic. However many people also find that a half-wild cat is more of a handful than they expected, and the result can be tragic for the cat. The topic of hybrids arouses strong feelings, as can be seen from the following dialogue between an animal rights enthusiast and Tammy Quist, director of The Wildcat Sanctuary.

Question from Penny:

The other day one of my animal rights buddies forwarded an email with the most bogus, self-promoting pictures and story from a 'sanctuary' that had allowed a liger to be born on their premises. They were really playing it up for all it was worth, including having the cat's young and beautiful female 'handler' posing with him - wearing lots of make-up, a revealing 'safari' outfit, and not much else. It didn't seem like what I usually think of as a sanctuary.

All of this and the fact that the cat was markedly overweight (that's hard on them!) had me in a tizzy. How dare they try and capitalize on their irresponsibility! But then to top it off, my friend - and a long train of other people who had been forwarding the promo piece around--had nothing but glowing things to say about what a beautiful animal, truly noble, et cetera.

My question is, am I overreacting? And if not, can you give me some points to help me to gently explain what's wrong with the scenario described above, without alienating my friends? These things are just going to continue as long as animal lovers turn a blind eye.

Response from Tammy Quist:

Hi Penny. In my opinion, your reaction was a breath of fresh air and exactly what I hope more people felt. True animal sanctuaries do not buy, breed, trade or sell any of the animals they rescue or house. In addition, they do not commercially use or exploit the animals in any way.

You mentioned a liger, an animal which is born after a tiger and lion cross breed. These can also be tigons depending which species was the mother and which was the father. Ligers and tigons are man-made species which would never exist in the wild. The facility that you mentioned commonly breeds these large cross-breeds as well as many other species of exotic cats. They do so for resale and for exhibition while allowing the general public to get their picture taken with wild cats. This is absolutely NOT a sanctuary, it is a profit-making facility that, in my opinion, exploits animals.

Unfortunately, ligers live very short lives. The cross can result in a 1500 lb animal, but many of the cat's organs, including the heart, are meant to accommodate a 400-500 lb. animal.

Ligers and tigons are just a few of the new exotic cross breeds. Many breeders are crossing wild cats with domestic cats to sell what they call 'lap leopards'. The huge downside to this is that these smaller cats still have 50% of the genes of wild cats and therefore are usually skittish and have poor litter box habits. The end result is a large number of these cats are surrendered to shelters and sanctuaries for not showing domestic personalities or habits. However, domestic shelters do not take in these cats or adopt them out since they are wild hybrids, and many sanctuaries don't accommodate them either. The Wildcat Sanctuary is one of a few facilities that does take them in.

The common hybrids are:

  • A Jungle cat bred with a domestic cat which is called a Chaussie.
  • An Asian leopard cat bred with a domestic which is called a Bengal. (Some Bengal cats have been bred back to domestic cats for four generations which is referred to as an F4 generation and is considered a domestic cat in some states, but the higher levels of wild genetics F1-F3s are not considered domestic animals in any states).
  • An African Serval bred with a Bengal cat is called a Savannah and is an expensive new breed that can cost upward of $8,000.
  • More hybrids exist, but all are being surrendered at an alarming rate when buyers realize that the size of the cat doesn't matter, when it has wild genes, it tends to act wild. Furthermore, many individuals are trying to skirt around ordinances against owning wild animal by buying hybrids. But in most cases, if it is illegal to own a wild or exotic animal in a city or state, it is also illegal to own a wild hybrid.

Thank you very much for your question.

The dialogue was supplied by Mrs Tammy Quist.

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