WHAT IS BEHIND THE FASCINATION?
By Diana Guerrero
Why is it that many people will protest the sale of pelts of exotic
cats found worldwide, but will fall for the promotion and want to buy exotic felid hybrids? The canid hybrid situation is tough enough, but the felid hybrid situation presents some of the same problems in a less obvious manner.
We are fascinated by wild animals and have this tremendous desire to "connect" with them in some way. Unfortunately the trade and focus occurring in private propagation and sale of hybrids does not contribute to proper conservation and understanding of any of the true wild animals. Conservation and preservation of any species involves several different routes of effort. Habitat conservation, promotion of understanding of the animal and its role in the environment, responsible management and the abolishment of trade, are a few of the more realist roles that do make a difference to many of those endangered or threatened animals.
It is a sad situation to deal with owners who buy these hybrid animals and then have to relinquish them to shelters, euthanize them because they cannot adapt, or worse. This problem is not unique to that of hybrid ownership either. Each year the domestic pet population skyrockets with thousands of domestic animals that end up being killed due to the lack of owner commitment, profit-oriented breeding by uninformed backyard breeders, and the continued trade and commerce of these animals and hybrids. There is also the same problem in the exotic animal ownership realm. All these problems end up surfacing in the animal sheltering and control industry. These challenges are something our communities should take seriously and work at solving.
Wild cats have attracted our attention with their beauty and their wildness like no other animal has. The attraction to these wild animals has created an allure that generated trade and legends worldwide. Humans like to profit from such fascination and people have been marketing crosses between the wild beast and the domesticated cat; this has created another nightmare for those dealing with animal-related issues and behavior problems. These crosses cannot be guaranteed for temperament and often have specialized nutritional and behavioral needs - and usually you never know what you are going to get.
People love the coats of the wild cats, so they want to find an animal that has the look and bring it into the household. So, that is how the market was born! The motivating factors to obtain these pets are highly varied - some people view them as status symbols while others own and breed them for financial reasons - marketing animals regardless of breeding, socialization, or heath considerations. Many breeders, who understand some of the difficulties, will advocate handrearing the kittens from the age of two to three weeks to assist them in becoming more social and amiable towards their new owners; there is still no guarantee.
For some reason many unsuspecting buyers think these animals are going to be adoring and amiable pets - most often they are not. No matter what people think, the hybrid is not an animal that will help perpetuate the species of the wild cat. Selfish human motives continue to harm animal species with a global impact. The bottom line is that they are not good pets and they require more care and understanding than the average household can provide.
True felid hybrids are a bit harder to define than some of the canid hybrids. They are often crosses of the Asian Leopard Cat, Geoffroy's Cat, Serval, and the Bobcat or Lynx. In most cases, the founder animals (animals from the wild or wild genetic pool) contribute to trade that harms the animal in its country of origin.
There are various types of repercussions that the hybrid crosses face. Genetically the physical complications include such things as sterility, birth defects, unique nutritional needs, and temperament instability. Many of the animals being bred cannot be easily integrated into the household or with other animals.
In the home environment, many hybrids will enjoy being active at early morning and evening hours - if not mainly at night. Many will not be very affectionate and often will stealthily move around the house. They usually do not adapt well to new situations and have a higher defense and predatory behavior drive than our domestic critters.
The commitment to a hybrid or wild animal is a major one in comparison to a domestic animal. As with canid hybrids, having an approved vaccine for rabies for felid hybrids is another concern that the veterinary community feels needs to be addressed. These animals will also have higher needs for taurine than domestic cats, and often have genetic abnormalities that are not beneficial and that conflict with the natural selection geared toward the "survival of the fittest."
Felid hybrids are allowed in only a few states that have specific legislation geared toward them; however regulation is difficult since it is hard to accurately identify these hybrids if you are not familiar with them. Even with the best of preparation, the challenges associated with hybrid ownership go far beyond the average pet owner's skill and tolerance. Most will have unique socialization and rearing needs to give them an edge adapting in a new household.
Hybrids tend to weigh more and to be much larger than the average cat. Often they are much more developed in their musculature and strength. There are a variety of different hybrids: Chausies are a Jungle Cat cross; Savannahs are a Serval cross; Bengals are an Asian Leopard cat cross; Pixie-bob is a Bobcat cross; there are more out there, but these are the most popular.
Domestication takes thousands of years to accomplish and cats are thought to have been companions to man about half the time that dogs have been. Some breeders will call only the first three generations hybrids, but it is difficult to pinpoint the percentage that is genetically inherited. Records for intentional hybrid crosses have been said to have been found in the late 1800's, but it was also legal to own a wild cat in this century. It was not too long ago when Ocelots and Marguays were found in pet shops! The popularity of hybrids seems to have surged since some of the regulations about owning exotics began to surface.
If you are intent on purchasing a hybrid we would encourage you to spend the time researching these animals. Contact national cat groups before you contact the breed groups and ask their opinion. Also contact humane groups and talk to them about the concerns involving hybrids. Then contact the national breed groups and actually spend some time around older animals of the breed. Don't just see one or two, see a wide variety and talk to others who have purchased the animals within a couple of years to find out how they have adapted. We hope you will not buy one, but if you do, get all the facts and do all the preparation you can.
Diana Guerrero has achieved international recognition for her work with both wild and domesticated animals. Working with some of the most endangered species in the world, she is known for her unique training methods using trust, respect and understanding as a foundation. She can be reached through Ark Animals Behavior Consulting and Training at (760) 599-3697 or (800) 818-7387, or you can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Return to the May/June Issue Index page