for National Geographic News
Jenifer Santee always dreamed of owning a tiger.
But knowing that wild creatures should not be kept as house pets, she did the next best thing: She joined a small group of cat breeders working to create a fully domesticated look-a-like of the largest member of the feline family.
"It's a designer cat that was bred specifically to preserve the beauty of an exotic animal," said Santee, of the SanteePride Cattery in Manteno, Illinois.
Dubbed toygers, for toy tigers, these playful, black-striped felines have been registered as a breed with the International Cat Association (TICA) since 1993 (see photos of toygers vs. tigers).
Santee is among 25 breeders worldwide working on perfecting the pedigreed cat. So far, 360 toygers—each valued at upward of $3,000 (U.S.)—have been registered with TICA.
And starting this May toygers will join more familiar breeds—including Abyssinians, Persians, and Russian blues—that can be judged as championship cats at TICA-sponsored cat shows.
Public demand for the tiny tiger replica is "overwhelming," Santee said, and has likely been fueled by recent national media attention on the breed's progress.
To Breed or Not to Breed
But animal welfare groups are concerned that today's toyger frenzy will eventually add to the glut of pedigreed cats without homes.
Kirsten Kranz of Specialty Purebred Cat Rescue, the largest organization of its kind in the Midwest, said toygers will eventually fall victim to the "trickle-down effect."
At first new breeds are expensive and only a few people can afford them. But as time goes on, she said, the cats wind up in profit-driven, large-scale breeding operations that sell kittens inexpensively to the masses.
That's when increasing numbers of the animals are given to shelters, dumped on streets, or handed to rescue groups.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES