My kittons are very diverse in both personality and looks. We have a fearless bossy Siada, a loving silly Layla and a Malik practices daily to be the best butthead he can be. I can tell which one of them is making a mess in the next room just by the sound of the thud them make when jumping from a forbidden counter to the floor. And yes, I can even tell who just made that awful smell without looking.
What I did not realize though, is that not everyone is schooled in how to differentiate between kittons! When I share photos online there is a series of questions about "which one is that?" and often friends (who are more learned in the ways of kittons) will chime in with identifiers ever before I can.
In an effort to make everyone a pro at this, I submit the following guidelines below. (Perhaps we should even have a certification course in "Kitton ID"?)
Note that in all of the comparisons below that order will be Siada, Layla, Malik.
The Savannah breed standard aims for a very servally type cat, so the eyes are ideally medium sized and have a slightly hooded brow, with the top of the eye having a bit of a boomerang shape. All eye colors are allowed. Servals typically have browish or greenish eyes, but blue-grey and gold are also possible.
In the Kittons, Siada has very pretty eyes. They yellow-gold with green around the pupil and very clear and bright. (They bely her wicked intelligence and can strike fear into the hearts of her enemies, or at least Malik!) Layla's eyes are huge, round and more green than gold, but not the gooseberry green of a Bengal or an Isis. (These orbs look at you with adoration!) . Malik has the hooded eyes of a serval that are brown like Nimar's were, with only the tiniest hint of hazel in their depths when looking at him in full sunlight. (Alas, his hooded eyes often give him a wounded-puppy look that pretty much means he will get whatever he desires.)
A Savannah's face should form a triangle in profile and also if you look down at it from the top with the muzzle the point of the triangle. The bridge of the nose should either be straight or have the slightest concave curve to it.
Siada's face is all triangles, with a beautiful line to her jaw and a delicate muzzle. (She will even lift up those dainty muzzlepuffs to you for kisses!). Her nose is long and has the slight curve mentioned above. Layla has a short, blunt face, with a wide muzzle that is more reminiscent of a Bengal, or cute stuffed animal, than a Savannah. (That is ok though, that mouth is built perfectly for carrying theived bananas through the house!) And of course Malik, being only one step removed from a serval, has a very triangular face, as well as the long nose with the slight slope that Siada has. (He is handsome and he knows it all too well!)
Nose (arguably one of the cutest parts)
The standard is wide across the top, with a slight downward turn at the end. Yup, this babies have perfect noses! In Savannahs, these snufflers can have a variety of colors, including pink, red "leather", black or even black with a pink stripe!
Siada has a dark, heart shaped nose, that she turns up over chicken that is not properly minced enough for her pristine tastes. Layla has a red leather nose, perfect for sniffing out the bananas. Malik has a puffy pink nose that you just must kiss, even if he thinks otherwise.
"Remarkably Large" that is the description in the official breed standard. They should also be wide at the bottom, sit high on the head (some servals have ears so close together they almost touch at the base), and noticeable ocelli ('night eyes') on the backs of the ears is desirable.
These babies all have big ears. Heck, Siada was specifically chosen for her ears! Malik has very servally ears, that we wide, with very round tops and that sit quite close together. Siada's ears have very slight points at the top and the very tiniest of ear tuffts if you look closely. Layla's ears are somewhat between the two and while not quite as large, they are, in fact, quite adorable. (Bonus of baby kitton ear photos!)
Below you can see the striking contrast of an F1s ocelli, with the F3 girls who only have the slightest shading on the backs of their ears. (Layla and Siada in the left photo and Malik and Layla in the right.)
Can you tell them apart yet? Maybe? If not, Part 2 of the Definitive Guide to Kittons (covering the build, feetsies and fur) will be coming soon!
Every now and again I am asked why we don't just get an African Serval (especially when people find out they actually cost less than an F1 Savannah). I would be lying if I said I didn't love the idea of sharing my life with a serval, but I have also done my research and understand that there is a whole lot of reality that goes along with it. And responsibility, even more crazy amounts of it than comes with living with three high-energy Savannahs.
There is also a matter of logistics. We have our kittens trained to travel well, it could possibly be done with a serval as well, but there is a chance it would not work. What then? Further, servals are not legal everywhere (hell, Savannahs are not legal everywhere either), including the two states where we spend our time. They are also often unwelcome in campgrounds or parks, and we love to take the feline herd camping.
Tracy Wilson, from the Serval Education Group on Facebook has put together a great starting list of things you need to do or consider before getting a serval and she has given me permission to share the information here. Below is her list and some other information.
DISCUSSION TOPIC of the week for our expert panel: PROPER STEPS TO OBTAIN YOUR FIRST SERVAL. I have listed here some bare minimum first steps to take towards getting your first serval, if our experienced people will elaborate on each step in detail and add anything additional that should be done BEFORE a new person obtains their first serval. I'll edit the steps below if I left something out.
Other points she added are that you also need to check local laws in addition to state and to check with your home owner's insurance to make sure that they allow exotic animals.
I think that her list above is very good, and anyone seeking to bring an animal (ANY animal) into their life needs to be willing to take full responsibility for that creature, as well as its health and happiness. And yes, that means by starting with making sure that it is even legal to have it. Do you really want the heartbreak of having your cat taken from you by the authorities? Imagine how that poor animal would feel were it removed from a loving home and placed in a cage outside in a rescue shelter, separated from the only family it ever knew. What if it turns out to be more than you can handle? What if the serval sprays everywhere (some thing many of them can do, even if they are fixed at a young age). One needs to really assess how the reality of this cat can impact one's life as servals, or even Savannahs, are not for everyone, and yes, you might have to change your lifestyle for your pet.
So yes, I am very content to live happily with my clowder of kittons, and will just instead just continue to follow the photos of people who do share their homes with beautiful servals such as Vader (of Tarkin and Vader).
Before we got Nimar I joined the old YahooGroups for Savannah cats. I learned so much in my first few years there about diet, genetics, and general feline health, and also had the benefit of getting to know more about the various breeders and the wonderful cats that the other members of the community had welcomed into their homes.
In more recent years, the old style of boards have given way to social platforms like Facebook, which is tremendous given how visual these outlets can be. Now I can see daily pictures of kittens while reading the funny, and occasionally sad, tales from the other participants. I see people there learning how to choose the right kitten and how to care for him or her. I also see people celebrating triumphs as they over come issues with their feline friends or people seeking solace over a loss.
If you are ever considering getting a Savannah Cat, I cannot recommend enough that you join some of these forums now. This will give you an opportunity to get to know the breeders (and see their kittens), become more educated about how to make the best home possible for these cats, and how to avoid scammers.
Online scams are prevalent everywhere, but those looking for "cheap" Savannah cats make particularly easy targets. Trust me when I say that any deal that seems too good to be true absolutely is. If you haunt Craigs List looking for a cat, or bargain shop websites, you are likely opening yourself up to a world of heartbreak.
My recommendation is to first look for breeders that are TICA approved. ( tica.org/en/ ) Look to see if there are reports on sick kittens or unethical practices online (BBB or websites that house information on bad catteries). Join discussion groups and forums and see if the breeders are there. Just because they are not there does not mean they are bad (Select Exotics, who bred Siada and Layla are not active participants of the online groups, but the other breeders there know the cattery and know that it has a reputation of producing healthy, socialized kittens). The reputable breeders are also masters at spotting scammers (who often swipe other photos to populate their own sites and ads with adorable kittens). If in doubt, just ask.
If you know that your timeline for getting a kitten is years away, then by joining the groups you will have a chance to follow the journey of other owners as they raise their kittens and that might help you make up your mind on what breeder you want to talk to when the time comes.
Are you interested in a more old-school platform? SavannahCatChat still has a thriving message board community where you can learn about the breed, share health concerns, ask about breeders (or leave reviews) and get your fill of adorable cat photos!
If you are just hoping to avoid potential scams, you can check out the Savannah Cat Breeders Facebook page which maintains a list of legitimate breeders. If your preferred breeder is not on that list, just ask about them, as there are often new members that need to be added, or someone might just have been overlooked. Remember that these tools are maintained by members of the community in effort to help you find your perfect Savannah companion and to promote the breed in the best ways possible.
Edited to add a Facebook page specifically dedicated to Savannah scams: https://www.facebook.com/groups/svcats/?fref=nf
Savannah Caretaker who is honored to do the job.