HYBRIDS BETWEEN LEOPARDS AND TIGERS

 

TIGARD / LEOGER

On 14th December 1900, Carl Hagenbeck wrote to zoologist James Cossar Ewart saying that he was attempting to cross a female leopard with a Bengal tiger. It was reported that the offspring were stillborn, having both spots/rosettes and stripes. In “Beasts and Men, Being Carl Hagenbeck's Experiences for Half Century Among Wild Animals” (abridged translation by Hugh SR Eliot and AG Thacker, 1912) Hagen wrote: ”I have also heard of a cross between a tiger and a female panther, but the young one was born prematurely and had no vitality. ” This experiment does not seem to have been repeated elsewhere since that time.

A Rörig (1903), H Scherren (1908) and L Reisinger (1929) all reported that the mating of a male tiger to a female leopard resulted in conception, but the mouse-sized foetus was aborted. In The Field No 2887, April 25th, 1908, Henry Scherren wrote "A male tiger from Penang served two female Indian leopards, and twice with success. Details are not given and the story concludes somewhat lamely. 'The leopardess dropped her cubs prematurely, the embryos were in the first stage of development and were scarcely as big as young mice.' Of the second leopardess there is no mention."

In “Forty Years Among the Wild Animals of India” by FC Hicks, published in 1910, there is an account of a supposed hybrid. This account is quoted in various forms in later books by other authors. There is a persistent idea among the natives all over India that the largest males of this species frequently mate with tigresses, who point as proof to the excessively prominent stripes with which some of these largest panthers are marked in the lower portions of the body about their stomach, calling them "doglas" or hybrids. But this I think is a mistake, for I once, and once only, had the fortune to shoot a true hybrid, between a panther and a tigress I think, which was a vastly different looking animal to that referred to by the natives as a "dogla". It happened shortly before 1 was mauled that I beat for what I thought was a tigress, the footmarks of the animal being like that of a female feline. During the beat the spotted head of a panther of extraordinary size pushed its way through the grass, followed by the unmistakable striped shoulders and body of a tiger, though looking a bit dirty as if it had been rolling in ashes. I succeeded in dropping this extraordinary creature dead with a shot in the neck, and, on examining it, I found it to be a very old male hybrid, with both its teeth and claws much worn and broken; its head and tail were purely that of a panther, but with a body, shoulders and neck-ruff unmistakably that of a tiger, the black stripes being broad and long though somewhat blurred and breaking off here and there into a few blurred rosettes, the stripes of the tiger being the most predominant on the body. One of the peculiarities of this creature which I particularly noticed was, that though it was male, it had the feet of a female and measured a little over 8 feet in length.

This unique trophy, I am sorry to say, disappeared during the general confusion that followed on my being mauled; it may have been sold off with others of my things while I lay unconscious or it may have been stolen; I never succeeded in tracing it again. Having thus once seen a true hybrid, I am inclined to doubt whether there is really anything in the native idea of connecting some of the larger species of panthers, which they call "doglas", with tigers; on the other hand, it has yet to be proved whether such a hybrid as I shot is capable of breeding, or whether it is sterile. If they are capable of breeding again in their turn with other panthers, then there may be a great deal in this idea of the natives; in which case it may well be that it is originally owing to such crossings with tigers that we have the larger species of panthers in India.”

Leopards and tigers will use the same track and have been seen feeding at the same kill, usually one after the other has left. Generally the larger tiger will force the leopard away. A case of the young tigress and adult leopardess on the same kill in the Sawai Madhopur forests of Ranthambhor in 1928 was reported by Abdul Shakur Khan (1935). The kill was used as bait and both animals were shot within 2 hours on 07/06/1928, but it appeared that the leopard was in the habit of poaching the tigresses kills. Further study of pugmarks indicated they were living together.

Iftikhar Ali Khan (1936) observed a large leopard (2.38 metres) and a well-grown tigress (2.51 metres) preying together for several nights. The leopard made the kill with the help of the tigress and both animals fed together. Once again, both animals were shot in a hunt. Although the association of the 2 animals was attributed to sexual attraction, there was no evidence of courtship or mating behaviour between the two animals. As a result of the reports by Abdul Shakur Khan and Iftikhar Ali Khan, Delhi Zoo planned to hybridize a male leopard with a tigress, noting that there had been no previous attempts at this.

There was also an account in the 1930s in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society of a tigress and a leopard hunting together. It’s unusual for big cats of different kinds to behave in this way in the wild, and it is possible that they were mates. "Iftikhar Ali Khan, a prince of Malerkotla State, witnessed the tigress/leopard association when he put out a buffalo bait in the Vindhya Mountains in Central India. He first heard the leopard "sawing" and the tigress moaning. Then the leopard came from the bushes and killed the buffalo while the tigress watched. They then ate together. The episode was repeated a few days later. On the third occasion a bigger buffalo threw off the leopard when it attacked, and the tigress then jumped in and made the kill before they ate together."

AP Gray's book entitled "Mammalian Hybrids" (1951, revised 1974) reported that tiger/leopard matings were infertile, producing spontaneously aborted "walnut sized foetuses" while others have referred merely to "stillborn offspring". This suggests a serious developmental problem with the foetuses at a relatively early stage (growth dysplasia) or a mismatch/incompatibility between the foetus and the host (mother). The description of a dogla suggests how a tiger-leopardess hybrid might look. The dogla, a colloquial term, is claimed to result from the converse mating: leopard to tigress. Anecdotal evidence from India suggests this pairing produces viable offspring.

In the newsletter of the Long Island Ocelot Club, September 1965, Loralee Vigne wrote a piece about the "Siamese Jungle Cat" in which she wrote ’In Bangkok, Thailand, we became the owners of a "Siamese Jungle Cat". This came about in the following manner. I was walking along a street when I noticed a shop in which a most peculiar animal skin was displayed. I went in to inquire as to its origin and was assured that it was a cross between a leopard and a tiger. Now, I'd heard of ligers and tylons [sic], but leopgers or tigards were news to me. Yet there in front of me was a skin that proved it.’ Based on the incompatibility issues between the 2 species, the skin seen by Vigne could not have been a hybrid and may have been that of a Clouded Leopard.

H Hemmer (1966) described an elderly male that was reputed to be a leopard x tiger hybrid. Its head and neck resembled a leopard, but the body, shoulders and neck-ruff resembled a tiger. It had broad, long black stripes that were somewhat blurred and broke off here and there into blurred rosettes.

In "The Tiger, Symbol of Freedom", Nicholas Courtney repeated Hicks’ report. But did not provide the date. The reports originated from the Gir forest region, and were also reprinted in Valmik Thapar's "Tiger." Natural hybrids might occur if local populations of one species were so small that same-species mates could not be found (a comparable situation is that of natural bobcat/lynx hybrids in parts of the USA). In his book "Tiger", KS Sankhala also noted the belief amongst local people that tigers and leopards naturally hybridise. There was, at one point, a plan to test this theory at New Delhi Zoo in the 1970s. Sankhala's book refers to large troublesome leopards as "adhabaghera" (half-cross) which he translated as "bastard" (crossbreed). Unusually large leopards that attacked villages were sometimes considered to be adhabagheras, though Sankhala himself did not believe in crossbreeds and notes that there are no specimens of adhabagheras in any museum.

Although not a firm rule, convention would term the offspring of a leopard x tigress mating a "leoger" and the offspring of a tiger x leopardess mating a "tigard". The terms tigleop and leotig have also been used colloquially. In the following case, the term “pantig” was used.

According to a report in The Sun (7th January, 1978) a “pantig” (panther-tiger hybrid) was born at Southam Zoo, a private zoo located on Warwickshire farm (Southam is between Royal Leamington Spa and Daventry). The purported pantig was the result of a mating between a male black leopard and a tigress and was fostered by a Dachshund. The cub’s background colour was the typical yellow-brown shade of normal leopards. Unlike earlier attempts at captive-breeding leopard-tiger hybrids, this purported hybrid evidently survived into adulthood. Eventually, the Southam Zoo pantig was sold to an American zoo – although there are no reports of it on that side of the Atlantic. If the account is true – and I strongly suspect it was a publicity stunt – the leopard's recessive melanism gene would be recessive to the tiger's normal tawny colour. All images of “Tiggy” as a cub and as an adult show a quite normal tiger. The apparent lack of serious scientific interest in him suggests that the owners knew this. Trawling through the archives, I found that many of the zoo’s big cat cubs appear to have been reared by bitches to make them handleable. The zoo was oriented towards entertaining the public (chimps in human clothes etc) rather than conservation.

Regardless of the truth of his parentage, there were a number of reports about the pantig in 1978. Coventry Evening Telegraph (11th January 1978) gives “TICKLED PINK BY PANTIG. YOU may have heard of the Pink Panther but it's unlikely you've ever met its rarer relative, the pantig. Five-week-old Tigimouse is Southam Zoo's latest addition a cross from a four year-old tiger called Pasher [Pasha] and a three-year-old panther called Whisky. And rarity does not end there - his foster-mother is a chubby dachshund called Dinah. When Raymond and Rita Graham-Jones, who own the zoo, found day-old Tigimouse with his mother Pasha, they immediately took him into the safety of their own home. They feared that the mother would kill the 3lb pantig. That's where Dinah came in. She took the youngster under her paw and has been feeding him ever since. For Dinah it was nothing new - in the past she has acted as foster-mother to baby leopards and lions, who even in their early days dwarf the dachshund. For his owners, the pantig is a triumph. They took Southam Zoo over at the beginning of last year and before that their experience of animals was limited to cats, dogs and cattle.”

The Daily Mirror (26th April, 1978) tells us “FATHER was a panther. Mother was a tiger. Which makes Tiggy a rare animal indeed—a pantig! Tiggy lives at Southam Zoo, near Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, where his special pal is Bert the goat” The same publication, on 8th July, 1978, said that the pantig’s two siblings were stillborn, and that the zoo’s owner, Graham Jones, planned to mate the leopard with a cougar.

From the Coventry Evening Telegraph (18th September, 1978) we learn ”THERE was a definite taste of the tropics at Binley Woods Middle School fete on Saturday. Setting the scene were the members of the Ocho Rios steel band. Against the background of their Caribbean rhythms prowled Tiggi, a ten month-old pantig from Southam Zoo. . . .. Mr Peter Woodward, the school's headmaster, was unworried by the presence of the pantig. ‘The insurance company have insisted on a special pen,’ he said. ‘But it's as much to protect the pantig from the kids as the kids from the pantig!’ “

In August 1979, several American newspapers (The Pittsburgh Press, the Des Moines Tribune) reported that Raymond G. Jones, owner of the Southam Zoo, took a 3 year old tiger called Tiggy with him when going to the bank in Leamington. This was to deter muggers. The dates don’t quite match – Tiggy appears to have been born late in 1977 and would have been nearly 2 years old in August 1979. The papers also refer to him as a tiger, not as a hybrid of any kind. I think that puts the question of Tiggy’s true ancestry to bed – he was a tiger whose pregnant mother may have been housed (for a time at least) with a leopard.

What would a leopard-tiger hybrid look like? Luckily we can make an educated guess because we already know what happens when a genetically spotted cat is mated to a genetically striped cat. The lion, like the leopard is genetically spotted, although the lion’s spots are largely invisible in adulthood. Ligers and tigons show what happens when spotted and striped cats are bred together. In the case of a leopard-tiger hybrid, the markings would be very similar, but black on a tawny background, probably with white or pale underparts. In size, the hybrids would probably be intermediate between the parental species.

DOGLA

The term “dogla” does not actually mean a tiger-leopard hybrid. It means “mixed race” and can be applied to any hybrid animal or to a mixed race person. In the west, most people first encounter the term in descriptions of the reputed tiger-leopard mix, and that is it main usage in some circles.

According to Indian folklore, large male leopards sometimes mate with tigresses. A supposed natural leopard/tigress hybrid was reported in India in the early 1900s. Some large leopards with abdominal striping were observed, but were not confirmed as hybrids and were possibly leopards with aberrant patterns where rosettes had merged into swirls or stripes. In Harmsworth Natural History (1910), R Lydekker noted that the native Indian name for leopard translated to "spotted tiger" (chita-bagh). "Bagh" simply means "big cat", though Europeans understood it to mean "tiger". This linguistic misunderstanding may have added to tales of tiger-leopard hybrids.

An obvious leopard/tiger hybrid was shot, but was nothing like description of a dogla. It was male, larger than a leopard, and had the head and tail of a leopard and the body, shoulders and neck-ruff of a tiger. The pattern was a combination of rosettes and stripes; the stripes were black, broad and long, though somewhat blurred and tended to break up into rosettes. The head was spotted. The stripes predominated over the rosettes. The pelt of this hybrid was lost. Though male, it showed some feminization of features, though this would not be unusual for a sterile male hybrid. This would seem to be the animal described by F.C. Hicks, a Deputy Conservator of the Imperial Forest Service who wrote in his book "Forty Years Among The Wild Animals Of India" (1910), about an apparent leopard/tiger hybrid: "During the beat the spotted head of a panther of extraordinary size pushed its way through the grass, followed by the unmistakable striped shoulders and body of a tiger. On examining it, I found it to be a very old male hybrid. Its head and tail were purely those of a panther, but with the body, shoulders, and neck ruff of a tiger."

Kailash Sankhala's book "Tiger" refers to large troublesome leopards as "adhabaghera" (half-cross) which he translated as "bastard" and which suggests a the dogla (tiger/leopard hybrid) belief of local people. Unusually large leopards that attack villages were sometimes considered to be adhabagheras. Sankhala himself did not believe there ever were any leopard/tiger hybrids. With regard to the animal shot by Hicks, Sankhala says there is no such specimen in any museum. He also noted the purely platonic fraternization of a tiger and leopard observed in Ranthambor in 1928 and documented in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. Sadly both animals were shot.

A TIGER/HUMAN "MATING"

In "Jehangir" (column 1, page 157) there is a report of a tiger attempting to mate with a human. This occurred at Agra in the year 1609. The Moghul Emperor Jehangir wrote "They brought a tiger from my private menagerie to fight with a bull. Many people gathered together to see the show, and a band of Jogis [religious mendicants, Yogis] with them. One of the Jogis was naked [quite normal for a Yogi] and the tiger by way of sport, and not with the idea of rage, turned towards him. It threw him on the ground and began to behave to him as it would do to its own female. The next day, and on several other occasions, the same thing took place. As no such thing had ever been seen before, and was exceedingly strange, this has been recorded." Personally, I find it surprising that the sexual activity between the tiger and the Yogi was repeated!

REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING

Courtney, N. The Tiger, Symbol Of Freedom
Gray, AP. 1951, revised 1974. Mammalian Hybrids
Hagenbeck (Letters to Cossar Ewart)
Hicks, FC. 1910. Forty Years Among The Wild Animals Of India
Robinson's Genetics for Cat Breeders & Veterinarians 4th Ed (the current version)
Valmik Thapar, Valmik. "Tiger The Ultimate Guide"

Textual content is licensed under the GFDL.

Many thanks to Paul McCarthy for tirelessly researching back issues of The Field and The Times.

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