Animal welfare groups have petitioned the state to restrict the breeding and possession of hybrid cats — the result of crossbreeding between house cats and wild cats such as Asian leopard cats or African servals.
Hybrid cats have been gaining popularity as pets because of their visual similarities to exotic wild cats. Some say that those wild looks can predict wild behavior.
“They’re thrilling at the beginning, and cute when young, but they can grow into animals that people are unprepared to take care of,” said Daniel Lutz, litigation fellow at the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund and four big cat sanctuaries submitted the petition last week to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the California Fish and Game Commission. The agencies have 30 days to consider the petition.
Though it is largely restrictive, the petition, if accepted, would grandfather in hybrid cats that meet certain criteria, including proof that they are spayed or neutered, appropriately permitted and have a registered pedigree showing they are at least four generations removed from the original crossbreeding.
The groups ask that the agencies control the hybrids to the same degree that wild cats are, asserting that the animals also pose a risk to native wildlife. The groups fear that the ability of hybrid cats to breed with feral cats would allow them to become an invasive species.
“The threat of hybrid cats that are released or abandoned, that can then breed with feral cats is a very severe threat,” said Lutz. "Just feral cats are partly responsible for 14 percent of all extinctions since the 1600s, and these new types of super-predator feral cats can exacerbate that type of threat.”
The petition states that the pets pose a potential health risk to humans as well, citing that no known rabies vaccine exists for the cats.
Proponents for the hybrid animals have argued that the cats make for exceptional pets. Several videos of the animals show children interacting with the cats, many of which are much larger than the average house cat.
Lutz said that homeowners who tire of their exotic pets have difficulty finding places to take them, increasing the risk of abandonment. He said that many shelters refuse to accept the hybrids and that many end up in big cat sanctuaries.
"It seems at first strange that a sanctuary that is housing tigers and lions would also be housing these hybrid cats," Lutz said. "The reason for that is because local shelters just can’t handle – you can’t put a hybrid cat in with a bunch of other animals and expect everything to go smoothly.”