Exotic Cat Breeds
Above: Mary a Savannah on the left and her Serval mother, Callie; two very exotic cats. This photograph sums up this group of cats. It is all there; no need for words but you'll get 'em anyway... Photograph copyright Helmi Flick
This is a groups of cats that is becoming increasingly popular. And this group of cats is becoming increasingly large as a result. First things first, though. What does the word exotic mean? It means strange, unusual, anything of foreign origin, foreign and exciting connotating beauty and wonder.
Secondly, it is worth reminding ourselves that the word "exotic" can be used in the cat fancy in variable ways. This is due to slightly different ideas on the cat breeds from association to association, which in turn is at least in part due to differences from country to country.
In a general sense exotic cat breeds means cats that step out of the mainstream. Wildcat/domestic cat hybrids naturally fit the bill. This group of cats are meant to be different and exciting and they often are, especially the early generations. The early F1 and F2 (F stands for "fillial") generations are more like their wildcat parents or grandparents. As the wildcat chosen for the breeding program is by definition exotic, the early offspring will be too. When, however, the breeding enters F5 offspring generations the cat becomes less exotic particularly if the breeding is not that good and the cat starts to lose some if her wildcat features and if the coat becomes less contrasty. A contrasty coat pattern is desirable as it makes more of a statement that this cat is like a wild cat.
Although it is probably cheating a bit, it is probably correct to say that the most exotic cat breeds are the tamed wild cats. These are the Safari and Serval. These cats require special handling both for the sake of the person and more importantly the cat. There is no chance of these cats being indoor cats. You'll need space, time, money and compliance with the local authorities legal requirements in keeping a wild animal no matter that she has been trained to be domesticated.
One down from this lofty height are the F1-F2 Savannahs and Chausies. The former a Serval wildcat/domestic cat hybrid and the latter a Jungle cat/domestic cat hybrid. The demands on the human go down a bit but are still high. These are alpha cats. They form close bonds to humans which is nice but this carries a necessary burden in terms of demands on time and input.
Going further from the wild we have the original exotic cat breed the Bengal Cat. There are some fabulous Bengal cats and some that are not so inline with the required "type". Some may even be misdescribed. These are truly domestic cats but they are sometimes more inquisitive, active, intelligent with some wild blood which comes through in their character and behavior. I don't think Bengals are indoor cats.
However at the other end of the spectrum a cat with the name "Exotic Shorthair" does (to a high degree) have the requirements for permanent indoor living which is widespread in the States, less so in Europe and the UK. The Exotic Shorthair however is not part of the group of exotic cat breeds. She is though rather strange looking having the ultra flattened face of the extreme Persian and the sold body conformation of the American Shorthair. She is a short haired Ultra Persian Cat. A search in one of the photography websites such as Flickr for "exotic cat" will most likely produce a lot of Exotic Shorthairs of various degrees of quality (in terms of type).
One set of cats that I think should fall into the group of exotic cat breeds are the designer cats. These are not wildcat hybrids but domestic cats through and through but made to look like wildcats by extremely careful breeding. I am thinking initially of the Toyger a stunning looking cat when breed to type and photographed brilliantly by Helmi.
The designer cats attract some criticism because people argue that there are enough cats and that there is too much focus on appearance and not enough on character. The real beauty comes in character. A lesser known and very rare designer cat is the California Spangled. She has no wild blood.
There is a clear overlap of terminology. It is far to argue that all exotic cats are designer cats. But it seems to me that the term "designer cats" is best used for cats that are breed with a particular group of people in mind (designed for a certain market) and the breeders of the Toyger make it clear that their cat is just that.
Another cat that has exotic wildcat looks is the Serengeti. Her name supports that assessment. This cat has no wild blood either. Another cat that has the look of a wild cat is the Egyptian Mau but this cat does not fall into this categeoy in my opinion.
There are other cats that are rare such as the dwarf cat Kinkalow but the term "exotic" conjures up strange and foreign lands and the dwarf cats do not give the impression that they come from strange far off lands and so don't fall into the exotic cat breeds group.
Exotic Cat Breeds to the Serengeti cat