A liger is the offspring of a lion and a tigress. It is bigger than either parent, 10 - 12 ft in length - making it the biggest hybrid cat and, for many people, the most fascinating. L Reisinger(1929) reported a male liger as weighing as much as both parents together.
Ligers vary in appearance depending on how the genes interact and on which subspecies of lion and tiger are bred together. According to AP Gray in Mammalian Hybrids, the basic colour of lion/tiger hybrids is pale ochre to rust yellow-brown, more intensive than in the lion, but paler than in the tiger and with tiger striping. The mane of the males develops late and is shorter than that of a lion. In general, males grow sparse leonine manes and the facial ruff of a tiger. Males and females have spotted bellies and a striped back. They roar like lions and "chuff" like tigers. The females exhibit conflicting needs for lioness-like sisterhood and tigress-like solitude. Ligers have no scientific name, but Panthera leo X tigris has been posited.
In "The Variation Of Animals And Plants Under Domestication" Charles Darwin wrote: "Many species of Felidae have bred in various menageries, although imported from diverse climates and closely confined. Mr. Bartlett, the present superintendent of the Zoological Gardens (18/17. On the Breeding of the Larger Felidae 'Proc. Zoolog. Soc.' 1861 page 140.) remarks that the lion appears to breed more frequently and to bring forth more young at a birth than any other species of the family. He adds that the tiger has rarely bred; "but there are several well-authenticated instances of the female tiger breeding with the lion." Strange as the fact may appear, many animals under confinement unite with distinct species and produce hybrids quite as freely as, or even more freely than, with their own species." The voluntary hybridisation of some zoo animals is also referred to as hypersexuality.
In Nicholas Courtney's (editor) book "The Tiger, Symbol Of Freedom", it stated "Rare reports have been made of tigresses mating with lions in the wild." A.A. Milne writing in chapter 3 "Tiggers Can't Climb Trees" says that "Under exceptional circumstances it has been known for a tiger to be forced into ranges inhabited by the Asian lion, Panthera leo persica, which is the same genus as the tiger. Rare reports have been made of tigresses mating with lions in the wild and producing offspring known as ligers. When a tiger and a lioness mate the cub is called a tigron." Milne may be referring to the Gir Forest where both species are currently found or to the Persian (Asiatic) lion's historic range which was much larger than it is today and extended into North Africa. Milne also wrote that lions and tigers have cross bred in captivity for centuries (correct), and that the offspring are always sterile (correct with regard to male offspring only). Large brown cats (larger than lions or tigers) were reported anecdotally from Singapore and it has been theorised that they might have been wild-born ligers.
Cuvier reported a litter of three lion-tiger "mules" born in October 1824 in England to an African lion and an Asiatic tigress owned by Mr Atkins, an itinerant exhibitor and animal dealer. They shared a den and were observed to mate frequently during the previous July. The cubs were born at Windsor and were shown to his Majesty. They were taken from the tigress shortly after birth and fostered onto bitches and a goat. Cuvier presented an engraving of 2 of the 3 the cubs at 3 months old and observed that they would probably reach maturity. He described them as being dirty-yellow or "blanket-colour" (i.e. camel colour) with darker tiger-like stripes on the body and spots on the head and on parts of the body. They had lion-like heads. These appear to be the first recorded ligers.
Elsewhere, it was reported that H Smith bred ligers from a Persian (i.e. Asiatic/Indian) lion and a "king tiger" (Royal Bengal tiger), which were born at Windsor on 17 October, 1824 though these could be the same hybrids that Cuvier reported. In 1888, Fitzinger recorded H Smith's hybrid of tiger and Persian lion at Windsor in 1824. He also described 4 sets of hybrids between a Barbary Lion and Indian tiger in the years 1827, 1829, 1833 and 1838.
A definitive account of the Atikins hybrids, with dates of litters, comes from "Lloyd’s Natural History", edited by R Bowdler Sharpe LLD, FLS &c. A Hand-Book to the Carnivora. Part I. Cats, Civets and Mongooses by Richard Lydekker, BA, FRS, Vice-President of the Geological Society etc, etc, etc. (Published 1896) . Page 45: Lion-Tiger Hybrids:
Although there is no record that such cross-breeding occurs in a state of nature; Lions and Tigers will occasionally breed together in captivity; but it is remarkable that the only recorded instances of such interbreeding took place between a single Lion and a Tigress. Attempts have, indeed, recently been made in the Zoological Gardens at Dublin, where, as mentioned above, Lion breeding is carried out with remarkable success, but hitherto without any successful result.
The history of these hybrids has been very carefully worked out by Professor Valentine Bail, Director of the Science and Art Museum, Dublin, from whose papers the following account is taken. The parents of these hybrids were in a travelling menagerie owned at first by Mr. Thomas Atkins, and subsequently by his son Mr. John Atkins; and a total of six litters of hybrids were produced between the years 1824 and 1833. The parent Lion was bred in the menagerie from a Barbary Lion and a Senegal Lioness; while the Tigress was born in the collection of the Marquis of Hastings at Calcutta, and was purchased when about eighteen months old from a ship’s captain, to whom she had been given by her original owner. Being of the same age as the Lion, she was placed with him in the same cage ; and in the course of two years proved to be in cub. The following is a record of the six litters produced by the union of this pair.
First Litter. Born October the 24th, 1824, at Windsor, and comprising two males and a female. They were nourished by a female terrier, but all perished within a year of their birth. These cubs were exhibited to King George the Fourth, at the Royal Cottage, Windsor, on the final of November, by whom they were christened Lion-Tigers.
Second Litter. Born April 22nd, 1825, at Clapham Common; there were three cubs, sexes not recorded. Reared by the mother, as also were all the subsequent litters. They only lived a short time.
Third Litter. Born December 31st, 1826 or 1827, at Edinburgh; one male and two females . Mr. Ball states that the year is given as 1827 in the handbill of the menagerie from which he quotes, and the other references seem to support that date; but Mr. John Atkins says it is given as 1826 in a printed catalogue in his possession. These only lived a few months. The skin of one of them, forming the subject of Plate III,, is preserved in the Science and Art Museum at Edinburgh, and a second is in the British Museum. Sir William Jardine remarks that “the colour was brighter than that of the Lion, and the bands were better marked than they generally are in the young of tire true breed.” Indeed, from his figure, the animal has more the appearance of a Tiger than of a Lion. Writing of the cubs of the first litter in the “Library of Entertaining Knowledge,” where one of them was figured, Griffith observes that "our mules, in common with ordinary Lions, were born without any traces of a mane, or of a tuft at the end of the tail. Their fur in general was rather woolly; the external ear was pendant towards the extremity; the nails were constantly out, and not cased in the sheath, and in these particulars they agreed with the common cubs of Lions. Their colour was dirty yellow or blanket-colour; but from the nose over the head, along the back and upper side of the tail, the colour was much darker, and on these parts the transverse stripes were stronger, and the forehead was covered with obscure spots, slighter indications of which also appeared on other parts of the body. The shape of the head, as appears by the figures, is assimilated to that of the father (the Lion) ; the superficies of the body on the other hand is like that of the Tigress.”
Fourth Litter: Born October 2nd, 1828, at Windsor; one male and two females.
Fifth Litter: Born May, 1831, at Kensington, three cubs, sexes not recorded. They were shown to the Queen, then Princess Victoria, and to the Duchess of Kent. The whole group performed in a specially constructed cage at Astley’s Amphitheatre, and in 1832 were taken by Mr. Atkins for a tour in Ireland
Sixth Litter. Born July 19th, 1833, at the Zoological Gardens, Liverpool; one male and two females. One, the male, lived for ten years in the Gardens. The young male Lion-Tigers when about three years old had a short mane, something like that of an Asiatic Lion; and the stripes became very indistinct at that age.
Mr. J. Atkins informed Professor Ball that there was a badly stuffed specimen of one cub which was about a year old in the Museum at Salisbury ; and there is another in the Cambridge Museum. From an account quoted by Mr. Harmer it would seem improbable that that that particular specimen, had it survived, could have bred. As a matter of fact, it appears, indeed, that none of the cubs ever did breed, though there is no known reason why most of them should not have done so. Mr. Atkins thinks that the cubs of the earlier litters died from overfeeding, as when he adopted a different treatment he had no difficulty in rearing them.
In 1830 (according to the South Eastern Gazette of 24 August 1830) Wombwell’s menagerie exhibited a black leopard in the same den as a lion-tiger and a leopard.
Two liger cubs were born in 1837. These were exhibited to His Majesty William IV and to his successor Queen Victoria. On 14th December 1900, Carl Hagenbeck wrote to zoologist James Cossar Ewart with details and photographs of his cross breeding experiments using a lion and a tiger born at the Hagenpark in Hamburg in 1897. He wrote that he was also attempting to cross a female leopard with a Bengal tiger. On 31st May 1901, Hagenbeck wrote again to James Cossar Ewart sending him photographs of the results of his male lion and tigress hybridisation experiments.
The Bendigo Independent, Victoria, 12 Aug 1893: An Attempt to establish 'a cross breed between (he lion and tiger is being made by the Royal Zoological Society of Ireland. Such hybrids have been known, an English showman having had a litter of three lion-tiger cubs born in 1824, and a second of two cubs in 1827. One of these—whose skeleton and stuffed skin now belong to the University of Cambridge—lived about six years.
The Globe, 19th June 1902 carried a short piece about Hagenbeck’s lion-tigress hybrids: LION-TIGER HYBRIDS. A SUCCESSFUL EXPERIMENT. Although the possibility of breeding lion and tiger hybrids in captivity has long been known, the results of the experiments have not been very successful, the animals rarely reaching to their full size and development. More recently, says Mr. W. B. Tegetmeier, in the." Field,” my friend Mr. Hagenbeck has obtained some extraordinary results, and has supplied me with particulars. The article is illustrated with some excellent photographs. One is of a mature animal which was born on May 11, 1897, it is now rather more than five years old. It is male. Its height across the withers as stands erect is 45in., English measurement. Its length from the nose to the tip the tail is 10ft. 2in., a length which exceeds that of a full-grown lion. In May during the present year it weighed 220 kilos., equal to 467 English pounds. It is an exceedingly fine, well-grown animal, showing slightly the stripes of the tiger, but it is not furnished with a mane like a lion, and this appendage usually appears in the lion when three years old, it may be presumed that no mane will ever be present in the hybrid. Mr. Hagenbeck has not yet succeeded in rearing any offspring from it. This animal is described by him as larger in size than any lion or tiger. He speaks of it as monster, and says that the two young ones, which are now only thirteen months old, are larger than any pure-bred lion or tiger of the same age, and he thinks, if they progress satisfactorily, they will grow to greater size than the large male. The two younger ones, which were a year old on the 28th of last April, are both males, and show the tiger markings rather more distinctly than the older animal. In addition to these photographs, Mr. Hagenbeck has sent me another of two young lion and tiger hybrids, male and female, born April 20 in the present year, twelve months after the birth of those reproduced. It shows the two little ones lying across a small terrier, which has furnished them with a small supply of milk, the remainder being given to them by a bottle. This same terrier was the nurse for the two larger ones. These animals, thus bred in what may be termed domestication, become exceedingly tame and docile, as may be inferred from the statement made above.
From the Indianapolis News (4th April 1903) we learn that the first hybrid is named “Prince.” The Rolla Herald (11th August, 1904) adds a couple more details, referring to “two monster cross-bred cubs of Roland, a magnificent Barbary lion and Kitty, a Royal Bengal tiger.” The Dayton Herald (2nd November, 1910) elaborated on Hagenbeck’s lion-tiger breeding and the success rate: ”Carl Hagenbeck now proposes to breed wild animals at his wild animal farm in Hamburg, and to furnish the zoos and parks of the world, not merely by sending forth hunters to capture wild animals, but by actually raising them in Germany. ‘Already we breed lions and tigers,’ said Mr. Hagenbeck, ‘ You saw Sawade’s tiger, Alexander, a splendid strong beast. She has borne about thirty hybrid beasts, lion-tigers, fathered by the lion Nero. I’m sorry to say we only succeeded in bringing up four of these hybrids, but we can do better now. There are the four, in those cages, three males and a female. Interesting, aren’t they? Interesting they certainly were, great powerful brutes, more like lions than tigers, but without fine manes or markings, and, on the whole, scarcely an improvement on nature’s model, yet vastly important as suggesting wonderful results that may be obtained by a blending of wild races.”
In his “Illustrated Natural History” (1853, 1874) the Rev JG Wood wrote: Dissimilar as are the lion and Tiger, there has been an example of a mixed offspring of these animals, the lion being the father and the Tigress the mother. The lion had been born and bred in captivity, and the Tigress bad been captured at a very early age, so that the natural wildness of their character had been effaced by their captive life, in which they felt no need to roam after. living prey, as their daily sustenance was always forthcoming. It has already been mentioned, that the young of the lion are marked with faint stripes of’ the tigrine character. Similar streaks were observed on the fur of the Lion-Tiger cubs, but they were darker than those of the lion cub, and were permanent instead of vanishing as the creature increased in years. The shape of the head was like that of the lion, while the contour of the body resembled that of the Tiger. These curious little creatures were too valuable to be entrusted to the care of the mother, and therefore were removed immediately after birth, and placed under the fostering care of a goat and several dogs. Under this treatment they throve well, but did not reach maturity. This is not the only instance of a hybrid breed between the lion and Tiger.
Prince’s background and temperament is described in more detail in “HYBRID LION AND TIGER“ (The Los Angeles Times, 27th July, 1902.): ”Strange Animal Born In Captivity and Now on Exhibition at the Cincinnati Zoo. [Cincinnati Enquirer:] One of the most interesting features of the exhibition of trained animals at the Zoo is a strange-looking beast, which forms the center of all the pyramids and positions Into which the animals are formed on the stage, and is accorded the place of honor on all occasions. This is nothing more than might be expected, when it is known that this is the only hybrid of its kind in the world. The father or this strange animal was a lion and the mother a tiger, both of whom have been in the possession of Hagenbeck from the time that they were cubs, having been born in the Hamburg collection. These two cubs, the one a lion and the other a tiger, were caged together from infancy, and were not allowed to even see other animals of either the lion or the tiger kind.
The hybrid now at the Zoo partakes of the appearance and the characteristics of both a lion and a tiger. It has a lion’s mane and a tiger's sharp ears, while its face is much more like a lion than it is like a tiger. On its sides the heavy hair is striped like that of a tiger, and its body from the fore legs back is more like that of a tiger than of a lion. In characteristics it is rather more gentle than some lions, and certainly was found to be more easily trained than many tigers. It was found, however, to be somewhat whimsical under the trainer’s hands, and for a long time it was feared that it was going to be a most treacherous beast. Herr Boger, however, succeeded in bringing the animal around, until it is now one of the brightest and most docile in the lot.
There are a great many people who do not believe when first told that such a thing as a cross between a lion and a tiger is possible. A single look, however, at the animal in the Zoo will be convincing evidence that such a step aside in nature is possible, and in this case has been realized. The value of the cross is the better appreciated when it is known that it is the only one now living out of eleven that were born at different times. This one has been exhibited in the group of which it is a member for a few years. Prince, for that is his name, is but five years old, but he has attracted more attention than almost any other animal that ever came into the world. He has been exhibited before the Emperor of Germany, the Czar of Russia, the Queen of England (who was then the Princess of Wales,) the King of Saxony, and many other potentates and nobles of Europe. Herr Boger, the trainer, said that while in England with the group, Prince was everywhere greeted with the greatest curiosity. Herr Boger was asked if he had ever been seen by the King of England.
“No,” replied he, “While we were in England the King, then Prince of Wales, was not a spectator at the exhibition, the excuse being made that he was ‘too busy.’ Prince was a hard animal to train,“ said Boger. “Sometimes i was afraid that he would never be brought to his right senses. I kept at him, going over his lessons carefully and repeatedly, and finally he came around all right, until now he is one of the best and easiest-managed of all. Mr. Hagenbeck thinks a great deal of this animal. He has done a good deal of animal breeding, and is prouder of this one than of anything else that he has. When the animal was finally trained to do his part in the show, Mr. Hagenbeck expressed great satisfaction. He is a wonderful animal, and no value could be placed on him when it cornea to measuring his worth by money. Just think of it! An animal that is different from anything else in the whole world. Neither a lion nor a tiger, and yet like both. You can’t blame Hagenbeck for liking him.” And Herr Boger reached through the bars of the cage and rubbed the shaggy mane and head of Prince, as he lay stretched out on the floor.
A full description of Hagenbeck’s first three surviving lion-tiger hybrids appeared in Animal Life and the World of Nature A Magazine of Natural History (1902), p200 – 202, in the article “LION-TIGER HYBRIDS” - By H. A. Bryden.
HYBRIDS from the mating of lion and tiger are by no means common. In the wild state they are unheard of, although in parts of Asia these animals were, and still are, occasionally found in the same haunts; and even in captivity, where cubs from the coupling of the two species have been produced, these mixed offspring have been usually poor specimens, very difficult of rearing. It has remained for one of the most enterprising collectors and naturalists of our time, Mr. Carl Hagenbeck, not only to breed, but to bring successfully to a healthy maturity, specimens of this rare alliance between those two great and formidable felidae, the lion and tiger. The illustrations will indicate sufficiently how fortunate Mr. Hagenbeck has been in his efforts to produce these hybrids. The oldest and biggest of the animals shown is a hybrid born on the 11th May, 1897. This fine beast, now more than five years old, equals and even excels in his proportions a well-grown lion, measuring as he does from nose to tip of tail 10ft. 2in. in length, and standing only three inches less than 4ft. at the shoulder. A good big wild lion will weigh about 400lbs. — Mr. Selous gives the length of a lion shot by himself as 9ft. 11in., its height as 3ft. 8in., and its weight as 4101bs. — and it is probable that in exceptional cases lions may attain 450 and even 500lbs. But the hybrid in question, weighing as it does no less than 467lbs., is certainly the superior of most well-grown lions, whether wild-bred or born in a menagerie.
This animal shows faint striping and mottling, and, in its characteristics, exhibits strong traces of both its parents. It has a somewhat lion-like head, and the tail is more like that of a lion than of a tiger. On the other hand, it has little or no trace of mane. It is a huge and very powerful beast, but, like most of Mr. Hagenbeck's feline pets, has been reduced to a state of comparative tameness, taking part in the shows given by a keeper, with other felidae, such as lions, tigers, leopards and pumas, not to mention dogs and various species of the genus Ursus.
The next hybrids are a pair born, like the bigger animal, of lion father and tigress mother. They are about seventeen months old, having been born on the 28th April, 1901. They show far more of the tiger striping than their elder relative, and are altogether much more tiger-like in appearance. At the age of twelve or thirteen months — when photographed — they were already as big as most full-grown lions and tigers, and they promise to develop into enormous specimens of the great cat family. They are, apparently, although reduced to a certain state of tameness, none too sweet tempered, judging from their photographs. The small photograph supplied by Mr. Hagenbeck shows another pair of hybrid cubs — mere babies, born in April of the present year and photographed a few weeks later. They lie with their foster-mother, a fox terrier, whose services had to be called in for the purpose of rearing them. They, too, show strong traces of striping; but as lion cubs in extreme infancy show a good deal of marking also, chiefly spots and blotches, it is possible that these stripes may to some extent disappear as they approach maturity.
These experiments of Mr. Hagenbeck are extremely interesting, but, whether fortunately or otherwise, it is almost certain that the breeder of these strange crosses between lion and tiger will never succeed in perpetuating a race of feline mules. Hybrids are notoriously infertile, and although mares — the mules of horses and asses — have strong maternal instincts, and will even develop milk and suckle young foals, which they manage to decoy away from their true mothers, there is, I believe, no genuine recorded instance of such a mule bringing forth offspring of her own. Already, I understand, Mr. Hagenbeck has mated the big lion-tiger hybrid with other pure-bred felines, but with no result. Darwin long since pointed out, in his " Origin of Species," that " hybrids raised from two species which are very difficult to cross, and which rarely produce any offspring, are generally very sterile." That assertion seems to be borne out strongly by the present case, and it seems altogether unlikely that any perpetuation of this new kind of fancy stock is to be looked for. Nor, indeed, is it desirable. In their own wild habitats, and after their own fashion, lions and tigers are necessary and very splendid creatures. A bastard strain from the crossing of these two species is not in the least likely to add to the beauty of the wildernesses of Africa or Asia or to the usefulness of two necessary forms in the scheme of nature. Nor in civilized countries, beyond the mere fact of producing a "sport," or curiosity, are these hybrids likely to be of interest or of use to anyone. In this case, at all events, nature seems to have wisely set limits which even the ingenuity of man is not likely to be able to evade. The causes of the sterility of first crosses and of their hybrid progeny were subjects that puzzled even that profound thinker and enquirer, Darwin. He arrived at the conclusion that such sterility had not been acquired by natural selection. "In the case of hybrids," he says, "it (sterility) apparently depends on their whole organisation having been disturbed by being compounded by two distinct forms; the sterility being closely allied to that which so frequently affects pure species, when exposed to new and unnatural conditions."
Nineteenth Century naïve painting of an animal trainer with lion, tigress and three hybrid offspring. The offspring (enlargement below) have lion-like colouration, a dorsal stripe and tiger-like ruffs.
A colour plate of the offspring of lion and tiger by Geoffrey St Hilaire (1772 - 1844)
Engraving of liger cubs born 1824 by G B Whittaker (engraving dated 1825)
Engraving of "lion-tiger" in Lloyd's Natural History, facing page 44 (1896)
Hagenbeck’s hybrids were great curiosities in both Europe and North America. The Washington Times, 4th January, 1903 reports on “Hagenbeck at the Lafayette. The principal feature is a mixed group consisting of two lions, three tigers, two pumas, two leopards, two polar bears, five Stuttgart hounds, and the much-talked-of Hagenbeck hybrid. This curious animal is a cross between a lion and a tiger, the first one ever brought to this country. It has the general appearance of the lion but the markings of a tiger. There are said to be only two other beasts of this description in the world, one being in the possession of the London Zoological Society and the other in the Hagenbeck depot in Hamburg. “ Various newspapers published the following report in early 1903: “The most interesting cross-breds at the depot are those of lions and tigers. One of these strange animals [Prince] has been taught to do some stage tricks, and is now performing with others in one of Mr. Hagenbeck's groups of trained animals. He is 3 years old, and is a fine creature. He weighs nearly five hundredweight, measures ten feet from the tip of his tail to the tip of his nose, and stands four feet high up to the top of his shoulders. The peculiarity of this beast is that it has a tiger s body and a lion’s head. His father was a Senegal lion and his mother a Bengal tigress. " The Music Hall and Theatre Review (26th August, 1904) gives us an idea of the value of such a hybrid: MR. HAGENBECK exhibits at St. Louis the famous pair of lion-tiger hybrids, for which he has been offered £1,000. These animals are the largest carnivora the modern world has ever seen. A full-grown male lion weighs 350 lbs., but Romulus and Remus, though now only four years old, weigh 500 lbs. apiece, and will probably be still heavier when full grown. Sadly Hagenbeck’s zoo suffered dreadfully in the First World War and his big cat hybrids perished.
Remarkable Hybrid Animals (various, May 1903). “That entirely new species of animals may be created is demonstrated by the latest achievements of the world’s greatest animal hunter, Carl Hagenbeck. After a lifetime of study he has brought into existence a monster creature that has no place in natural history, yet is the offspring of a Senegal lion and a Bengal tiger. On his animal ranch, near Hamburg, Germany, Hagenbeck has for some time past been devoting himself to the creating of new species of animals and birds. A strange creature, the offspring of a leopard and a puma, is now in the Berlin Zoological garden, but of all these the nameless monster now in his gardens at Stellingen is the most wonderful. From the time Hagenbeck began hunting wild beasts in India and Africa he wondered what sort of beast the two fiercest animals on earth would produce if they could be made to breed together. In order to try the experiment, several years ago he secured a splendid specimen of the Senegal lion and a monster Bengal tigress. Eventually the new monster, which is with the Hagenbeck trained animal show, was born. It is now larger than either the tiger or the lion, and does not seem to have reached its full growth. From the nose to the tip of the tail the lion-tiger measures 10 feet 2 inches, which is a greater length than that of a full-grown lion. When it stands on all fours its height to the shoulders is 4, feet. Its weight is 467 pounds. The body of the animal shows the stripes of the tiger, but its head is that of a huge lion, except that it has no name. Yet in the face of its mammoth proportions and fierce aspect, the disposition and animal instincts of the beast are more like those of a dog than either of the two fierce wild animals of which it is the offspring. Even to other animals it shows a remarkably mild nature. It possesses a great fondness for human companionship, and takes great delight in being fondled and made much of than is characteristic of wild animals in general. But this is only one, perhaps the greatest, of the marvels which the famous naturalist had brought about.”
St Louis Replublic, May 8, 1904: LION-TIGER HYBRIDS INTEREST-SCIENTISTS. Paris, May 7, 1904 (various)—A recent event in the animal kingdom, the first of its kind so far as France is concerned, has been attracting scientific as well as popular interest at Bostock's hippodrome lately. This was the birth of two baby hybrids, the proud father being a magnificent lion and the mother a large Indian tigress. Strange to say, the she cub takes after the father, as far as coloring is concerned, while the little brother favors the mother.
Although Hagenbeck’s hybrids had gone, others were crossing big cats. The Aberdeen Press and Journal, 24th June 1924 tells us of a lion-tiger hybrid bred in India: LION-TIGER HYBRID. No more remarkable animal has ever been exhibited in the Zoological Society's Gardens, London, than the full-grown lion-tiger hybrid that arrived at the Regent’s Park menagerie on Saturday morning. The animal, bred in India, on the estate of H.H. the Maharaja Jam Sahib of Nawanagar. who has presented it to the Zoo, is huge creature, standing higher than either a lion or a tiger, and has a very large head, with a rudiment of a lion’s mane. The head and legs are faintly striped. The father is known to have been a lion, and the mother a tiger. A similar cross was exhibited in Hagenbeck's menagerie in Hamburg about twenty years ago. The offspring then, as the present case, was of large size, and weighed much the two parents together.
(The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 19th November 1927, describes this same animal as the offspring of a tiger and a lioness. It is described as aloof and unfriendly. Its parents later fought each other with fatal results. According to “TIGONS AND LIGERS” by Maurice Burton, D.Sc., in the Illustrated London News, 14th June 1952, the Zoo hybrid of the 1920's was the offspring of a tiger and lioness. Pocock described its mix of characteristics thus: The lion ancestry was shown in the presence of a mane, a nearly uniform, tawny-buff skin, with no sign of the orange ground-colour of the tiger, a small but distinct tail-tuft and only very faint stripes, no more distinct than seen in some East African lions. The tiger characters were seen in the shape of the head and body, the general absence of dark tips to the hairs (a characteristic of lions), an indistinct black dorsal stripe, a few thin dark stripes at the tip of the tail, and the ears being jet black, with a large tawny patch, instead of the usual white patch of the typical tiger, running to the outer edge near the tip of the ear. )
In 1935, four ligers from two litters, were reared in the Zoological Gardens of Bloemfontein, South Africa. Three of them, a male and two females, were still living in 1953. The male weighed 750 lbs. and stood a foot and a half taller than a full grown male lion at the shoulder.
In May 1948, there were several reports from Salt Lake City, proclaiming success. “Throwing out all textbooks, the Salt Lake City Zoo has accomplished the supposedly impossible:- mating a full grown lion and tiger, traditionally deadly enemies. Mae and Huey are boxing playfully in 'their cage at the Hogle Zoological Gardens here these days, and the zoo Keeper, Joe Naylor, said Mae, the three-year-old tigress, was "expecting her first offspring either in mid-April or early May." I Lions and tigers have been mated before, but as far as zoologists know, not when brought together after reaching maturity. The German animal expert, Carl Hagenbeck experimented successfully in the field but his method was to rear the lion and tiger together from cub-hood. Some of the resulting progeny were sent to zoos In England and this country, but no case is on record of a successful mating In the United States. The hybrid offspring are variously called “tiglions,” “Llgers" and ' similarly coined terms.
Naylor took nearly ten months to get his pair together. Mae had a twin sister, named Daisy, both born in the San Francisco Zoo. When the Hogle Zoo acquired Huey from Miami, Fla, he was placed in a cage four stalls from the young tigresses. Gradually Naylor moved the young lion closer to; the pair, cage by cage. Finally, they were in adjoining cages, and began a friendly, if somewhat cautious roaring acquaintance. Last summer Naylor told his boss, Joseph Sloan of the city parks department, his plans for mating the pair. “I was told I was crazy,* Naylor said with a chuckle. “And not only by local authorities. We had a visit last summer from experts of the Bronx Zoo in New York, and from several West Coast cities, including Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. They all told me I was nuts in even thinking about It; that I'd find a dead lion on my hands some morning.”
In mid-December Naylor kicked open Huey’s cage. “I literally shoved him In with Daisy and Mae," he said. "At first they snarled at each other and the two tigers backed Huey into a corner. There was a little blood and some fur flew, but that lion was just plain scared to death." After a few days of armed truce. Naylor removed Daisy and left Huey and Mae together. 'Two days later they were as friendly as a couple of puppies;” Naylor said. "They’d box together in the mornings and romp all over the cage together.” He said that on Dec 28 the pair were mated, and that the mating season lasted until Jan, 24. Naylor added that Mae shows all the signs of being expectant, and that It she is, the kittens are due In late April or early May. Tigers have a gestation period of 105 days and usually produce three cubs. Watching the two animals lying fondly together with the tigress' head nestled against the lion’s shoulders, "Cupid” Naylor rubbed his hands cheerfully. "They're mated now tor life” he gloated, “It’d be a shame to break up such a happy home. And they said it couldn't be done.” "
Another report in the same month gave a different account of the mating. “A special circus-wagon cage and all the comforts expected by lions and tigers in captivity, will be provided for Salt Lake City’s famous “Tiglon" - or ‘'liger” - when it is large enough to meet the public. The 19-day-Dld oddity now weighs slightly more than five pounds. Offers from zoos and circuses to buy the baby "Tiglon” have been turned down, reports City Park Superintendent Joseph L. Sloan. The animal is bringing Utah a great deal of national publicity, it is pointed out, as there is no record of such another youngster in the world. "It is a Tiglon because its father is the lion and its mother the tiger,” said Mr. Naylor. “If its mother was a lion and its father a tiger it would then be called a Liger.” [he gets this the wrong way round] “The kitten, called Daisy, is being fed regularly from a real baby bottle and a regular baby formula is used. The kitten only weighed a pound and a half when it was born. “It opened its eyes Friday, and they are more or less green, like her mother’s, the tiger," points out Mr. Naylor. “The father’s eyes are a light yellow.”
"The mating of lions and tigers in American zoos is possible in more than 50 per cent of the cases, if handled properly,” declares Mr. Naylor, who was invited to Ogden to tell about the much-discussed 'Tiglon'. “There is always the danger of the lion killing the tiger during the mating, however, unless one understands animals. I understand that a male tiger and a female lion who grew up together from cubs were mated in Germany, But, it is believed that this is the first time , in history that a male lion and a tiger were mated. The reason this was possible is because of a secret 'love medicine’, obtained from an old-time friend of mine, Bill Gronenthial, who lives in Canada. [. . .] The lion and the tiger were so tame, and looked so lonesome, I began thinking about mating them. The more I thought about it the more I thought it could be done - even if everyone I talked to said that it never had been done and wasn’t possible [. . .] I dropped Gronentbial a letter and told him what I proposed to do. I had some medicine which I had been experimenting with - a love potion which quieted down the animals. In addition to the vitamins given in their meal each Monday morning, I used the love potion every day for six months. Finally, when I figured they were ready for mating I raised the gate of 1hc lion's cage and let the king of the beasts enter the tiger’s cage. That was November 28, 1947. There was perspiration on my brow. But instead of a snarling, raging fight, as some experts said would happen, it was a case of love at first sight. The two beasts set up housekeeping and were together until the first of April, when I put the lion back in his own cage. The vitamins and love potion made them friendly - and the Tiglon was the result of the mating. “
Shasta was born at the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City on May 14th, 1948. Shasta, Salt Lake City's world-famous “liger" cub, makes her debut Saturday. Before the day is over the 17-pound daughter of a tiger mother and lion father will have seen a lot of people, and a lot of people will have seen her. But Parks Supt. Joseph L. Sloan isn’t worried about the people. “It's how Shasta reacts that worries me.”' he said Friday, in anticipation of the event. The 6-month-old cub will be removed from her present home at the Sloan residence hi Liberty park and placed in a wire enclosure on the center lawn of the Hogle Zoological gardens for public inspection. Since the cub's birth May 6, Mr. Sloan has had Inquiries from envious zoological experts in England, Australia, Mexico and Japan requesting more details on the hybrid. The cub has the head of a lion, and the ears, long body and tail of a tiger.<.P>
Proving that hybrids need not be unhealthy or short-lived, Shasta the ligress, who lived at the Hogle zoo in Salt Lake City, set a longevity record. She was born at the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City on May 14th, 1948 and died in 1972 at age 24 (and an Indian tigon reached 25 years old). The 1973 Guinness world records reported the 18 year old, 750 lbs male liger living at Bloemfontein zoological gardens, South Africa in 1953.
1904 photo of circus lion tamer with 2 lions and a liger (Hagenbeck's travelling show)
1904 photo of circus tigress, lion and hybrid offspring (Hagenbeck).
1904 photo of Hagenbeck's ligers
May 8th, 1948: Hybrids of the Big Cats. A Salt Lake City news dispatch (reports : “Attendants at the Hogle Garden zoo were stumped about whether the zoo’s newest arrival was a ‘tigron’ or a ‘lioniger.’ The animal, said to be a cross between a tiger and a lion, was born yesterday to ‘Daisy,’ a three year old tiger. The cub weighed about a pound and was approximately six and a half inches long. It has the striped body of a tiger and a head which is neither a lion’s or a tiger’s but resembles both.” As the hybrid was born to a tigress, not a tiger and fathered by a lion its proper name is tigron. While the killing of hybrids in wild state have been reported they have not been verified, though many have been born in captivity. General R. G. Burton, who spent 40 years stationed in India and hunted the tiger every year, and is an acknowledged authority, says in his “Book of the Tiger”: "The ancestral type of the great cats may have been striped or spotted. Many of the tigers’ markings are like elongated rosettes, and both lions and tigers frequently exhibit spots. Evidence is also to be found in hybrids between the lions and spotted cats, for the lion has been crossed with both the leopard and the jaguar: in these cases the leonine characters appear to be dominated by those of the spotted animals. The male lion-tiger hybrid known as the tigron, named Ranji, after Ranjitsinkji, the Jam of Nawanagar, in which state it was bred, which lived in the regents' zoo for eight years, looked more tigrene than leonine, while although of a tawney color of the lion it had faint stripes. A hybrid between a tiger and a lioness, bred in Edinburgh also appears most tigrene. Other such hybrids have bred in manageries. In hybrids the more primitive type is biologically predominant.” There is no authentical instance, the author continues, of a tiger-leopard hybrid but several abnormally marked leopards that may have been hybrids have been killed in leopard frequented districts of India.
Ligers are the largest big cat, tending towards gigantism, especially in the males which can be the size of a pony and weigh over half a tonne. Some researchers suggest this is a throwback effect to the huge size of the related extinct "cave lion" though the effect is actually due to "growth dysplasia" (see below). The male liger reportedly has a gentle disposition which may be due to lack of testosterone (male hybrids are usually infertile). Some male ligers have more mane development than others and some are almost mane-less; this is comparable to variable mane sizes in wild lions. Because of public fascination with giant cats, the liger is now more common than the tigon. Although ligers are claimed to be relatively docile, their size and strength still makes them very dangerous when excited or defensive. In october 2008, a handler at an animal sanctuary near Tulsa was fatally mauled by a 1000 lb liger called Rocky when he entered its enclosure while it was feeding (a violation of the zoo's rules). The handler was bitten on the neck and back and died in hospital the following day. When Rocky was younger, it was possible to ride him like a horse. Although the handler was at fault, the liger may be destroyed.
In "At Home In The Zoo" (1961), Gerald Iles wrote "For the record I must say that I have never seen a liger, a hybrid obtained by crossing a lion with a tigress. They seem to be even rarer than tigons." In contrast, Iles was more easily able to acquire tigons for Belle Vue Zoo, Manchester.
September 16th, 1975: The last of three “liger” cubs born to a tjgress and a Hon at Osaka's Tennoji Zoo died Monday, apparently because the 1.1-pound cub was born prematurely. The three cubs were born a week ago to tigress Tama and her consort, the lion Takeo. The two were given a cage to share almost since they were born 4.5 years ago in hopes of producing littler ligers. Tama’s first pregnancy last July ended in miscarriage. The three liger cubs were born at about half the weight of a normal lion or tiger cub. One died last Wednesday and another Thursday, but zoo officials had given the third - whose face resembled a tiger and body a lion — good chances for survival. Three world zoos had ligers before World War II and the Salt Lake City zoo produced a tiger in 1948 that survived for three years.
Ligers, showing the variable appearance due to different gene interactions.
Baron Julius Von Uhl (Shrine Circus) bred a male liger named "Ligy", who lived to be 27 and weighed 800 lbs. Von Uhl is better known for his tigers, including white tigers.
Not all liger births are planned - in September 1975, a tigress sharing a cage with a lion at a zoo in Osaka, Japan, gave birth to 3 cubs described as having tiger's heads and lion's bodies. Two died soon after birth and the third was reported as "very poorly", presumably dying soon after the news report. In the 1980s, ligers were bred at the tiger park in Thoiry near Paris owned by Vicomte Paul de la Panouse who allowed lions and tigers to roam freely together; so freely they interbred. One of the ligers, Julie, produced a cub, though its paternity wasn't known. It was reported that in 1984 2 "ligrons" (ligers) mated and produced offspring, thus disproving that hybrids were sterile (The Gazette, Montreal, Quebec, May 14, 1988. p I3 ); but the sire of the 2nd generation was probably Julie's own sire, a lion.
The historical photographs below, are in circulation described as Cubanacan the Alipore Zoo's li-tigon with Josip Marcan. Marcan was never Cubanacan’s handler and Cubanacan never went outside of Alipore zoo or performed any circus tricks. The images are one of Marcan's ligers.
HYBRID ‘LIGER’ IS CAT NOT TO HE CROSSED . METAERIE, La. (UPI, October 23rd, 1986). Wild animal trainer Josip Markan is breeding a zoological controversy with his part lion-part tiger curiosities known as ligers. The big cats being bred by the Yugoslavian-born circus performer have light ochre stripes similar to tigers but the males also sprout manes, like lions, and grow larger than either parent. “We are going to develop a completely new species,” said Markan during a recent performance stop of the Beattie and Cole Brothers Circus. “It will be far more large, more intelligent and superior than the others.” He said his two young ligers, which already are larger than their lion father, may become the largest living members of the feline family. “Halfway through the season, I think we have a problem, now they are growing non-stop,” he said. “We have a monster here instead of a regular pet.” Markan, who for 20 years, has tried to crossbreed tigers and lions, now says he has the only ligers in the world. He says he will continue producing ligers, which are not known to exist naturally, and sell them to zoos. Markan said he overcame the natural antipathy lions and tigers have toward each other by rearing a male lion cub and a female tiger cub together from birth. When the animals became sexually mature, he bred them. He said the female tiger was not artificially inseminated. Some zoologists question the ethics of such breeding, while others see oddities like the liger as a way to increase traffic at increasingly market-conscious zoos. “They are fiddling around with, two different animals,” said David Anderson, curator of the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. “This is distracting people from a responsible opinion of animals.” The trend among American zoos is to oppose such genetic manipulation. Many feel the work of zoos is to protect and preserve endangered species rather than house such hybrids as white tigers and ligers. Economic considerations could force some zoos to change their outlooks, said Dr. Oliver Ryder of the San Diego Zoo.
In Amman Zoo, Jordan, Jassass, a 250 kilogram seven-year-old lion, and Warda, a 120 kg six year old tigress were introduced to each other on August 30, 2001. On this occasion, the tigress rebuffed the lion's overtures, but zoo keepers remained hopeful that the pair would eventually mate (to date there has been no success).
A liger born in 2002 at Fuzhou, Fujian Province, lived for more than 100 days. In July 2004, a liger cub born in a wildlife park in Hainan, China died of respiratory failure 72 hours after birth. It had been born to the tigress Huan Huan and a lion called Xiao Erhei. It was born underweight and its death was attributed to congenital respiratory failure. According to Hainan biologist Dr.Li Yuchun, only one out of 500,000 lion-tiger or tiger-lion cubs survive, due to differences in their chromosomes. Huanhuan had rejected the cub and it had been suckled by a domestic dog that had just whelped in the hope of getting colostrum. The zoo planned to breed further ligers and later produced Ping Ping, Ann and Dai Wei. In July 2006, they produced 4 more liger cubs. The parents and their 7 cubs lived together in a single enclosure.
On 6th December 2004, a Bengal tigress produced healthy liger cubs sired by an African lion. The Russian Information Agency Novosti claimed it to be the first ever liger produced from this combination (possibly the first in Russia). The parents lived in neighbouring caves in the Novosibirsk zoo and got used to each other. The female liger cub was named Zita and resembles her tigress mother with clear tiger stripes, but has a lion's background colour and many leonine features. Her brother remains with his parents in another Siberian zoo. In November 2005, three liger cubs were born in the Novosibirsk Zoo to an African lion and a Bengalese tigress. This second litter from the same pair is the result of a genuine attachment between the two big cats which have been housed in neighbouring cages since childhood. Staff at Novosibirsk Zoo are considering the possibility of scientific research into liger fertility. During 2005, two tigons and three ligers were bred at the Shenzhen safari park, in southern China (near Hong Kong).
The Valley Of The Kings sanctuary in Wisconsin has a liger named Nook. Liger cubs were born at the Ark zoo in Germany. A pair of ligers in Peking zoo, bred from an African lion and an Ussuri tigress. In April 2005, a liger (erroneously called a tigron) called Samil was born at the Italian Circus in Vigo, northwestern Spain. Samil is a cross between a female tiger and a lion and therefore is a liger.
In October 2008, three liger cubs were born at the winter zoo of circus Embell-Riva (Bellucci family) in Italy.
On 15th August 2010, Taiwan's first liger cubs were born in the private "World Snake King Education Farm" in Kuijen, Tainan county. The parents were a Bengal tigress called Beauty and an African lion called Simba. One of the 3 cubs died at birth and the remaining two were being hand-reared because the tigress made no attempt to nurse them. Zoo keeper Huang Kuo-nan said Simba and Beauty have shared the same cage since they were both small and they started mating three years ago, but Beauty had not previously conceived. Housing big cats together from young is not uncommon in private zoos. Breeding and crossing of rare protected animals is illegal in Taiwan so Huang is under investigation for breaking the law even though he claims he didn't mate the pair intentionally. However, earlier in 2010 Huang was accused of illegally trading tigers. He says that when he tried to separate the animals the lion "got very angry". The Tainan county government seized the surviving cubs, relocating them to a home for wild animals in another southern county. Huang faces a fine of up to NT$50,000 for unauthorised breeding of wildlife. In a similar case, a lion and jaguar in Canada that pined when separated produced unintended hybrids in a Canadian rescue centre.
G Peters included several hybrids (liger, tigon, leopon, leguar) in his "Comparative Investigation of Vocalisation in Several Felids" published in German in Spixiana-Supplement, 1978; (1): 1-206.
WHITE LIGERS, GOLDEN LIGERS
White tigers have been crossed with lions to produce white ligers. Everland Zoo (Yongin Farm Zoo) in Seoul, Korea claimed to have produced white ligers. Big Cat Rescue's white tiger apparently co-habitates with a lion, as it was the intention of the original owner to breed white ligers. Golden tigers have been crossed with lions to produce golden ligers. In theory snow white tigers could be crossed with white lions to produce truly white ligers. White tigons or golden tigons are also possible, but because tigons do not attain the huge size of the liger there is far less interest in breeding them.
In January 2014, Myrtle Beach Safari in South Carolina, also claimed to have produced the first ever white ligers (although Yongin Farm Zoo may have beaten them to this by a few years). The four male cubs were born to white lion "Ivory" and a snow white tigress called Saraswati. The cubs were named Yeti, Odin, Sampson and Apollo. They have creamy golden bodies with darker golden faces and narrow black stripes on the legs, paler brown stripes on the body and black spots on the face. The markings will fade as the cubs mature. The cubs were born in December 2013 and are nephews of a liger called Hercules, who is officially the world’s largest cat at 922 lbs and 131 inches long. Founder and director of the safari, Dr Bhagavan Antle, who bred the animals, says he is sure Yeti will reach this size. Dr Antle bred his first ligers in 1988.
A black liger would be an impressive creature, but to breed one would require both a melanistic tiger and a melanistic lion because the gene for black must be inherited from both parents and to guarantee a black liger requires both parents to be black. Very few true melanistic tigers have ever been recorded. Most "black tigers" are due to pseudo-melanism i.e. the markings are so heavy that the tawny background colour is almost hidden. No reports of black lions have ever been substantiated.
In felines, "blue" means a slate-grey colour. Genetically, it is a form of melanism where the colour has been diluted from black to grey. To breed a blue liger would require a blue (i.e.grey) tiger and a black lion (or black tiger and blue lion. Or blue tiger and blue lion). Blue tigers have been recorded in China, but none have occurred in captivity. To date, no grey lions have been recorded.
WHY ARE LIGERS SO MUCH BIGGER THAN TIGONS?
REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING
Historical accounts of ligers and tigons (chronological order): CJ Cornish et al (undated), R De Davison (1863), K Ackermann (1898), A Rörig (1903), Deutshe Landwirtshaftliche Presse (1904), Boettger (1906), T Noack (1908), A Sokolowsky (1909), H Przibram (1910), SS Flower (1929), L Reisinger (1929), Sir PC Mitchell (1930), H Heck (1932), RI Pocock (1935), CWG Eifrig (1937), WA Craft (1938), L Heck (1941), VG Stefko and VP Narskii (1946), B E—(1946), American Fur Breeder (1948), Illustrated (1948), H Pilcher (1948), B Grzimek (1949), A Urbain and J Rinjard (1950), P Leyhausen (1950), C Hagenbeck (1951), O Antonius (1951), H Petzsch (1951, 1956), M Burton (1952), A Kemner (1953), Farmer's Weekly Bloemfontein (1953), F Petter (1955), H Hemmer (1966, 1968), International Zoo Yearbook (1970, 1971)
Guggisberg, C. A. W. 1975. Wild cats of the world. Taplinger Publ. Co., New York
Leyhausen, P. 1950. Beobachtungen an Löwen-Tiger-Bastarden mit einigen Bemerkungen zur Systematik der Grosskatzen. Z. Tierpsychol., 7:46-83.
Robinson's Genetics for Cat Breeders & Veterinarians 4th Ed (the current version)
LIGER, LIGER - WITH APOLOGIES TO WILLIAM BLAKE
Liger, liger, burning bright,
Such huge weight and such great height,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
Huge as pony, hearth-cat tame,
Unlike the cats for whom you're named
Tigress mother, lion sire,
But you inherit neither's ire.
Your threat to man not wrath, but size;
While there's no malice in your eyes,
The hazard lies in frame and strength -
In play you may endanger men.
Liger, liger, burning bright,
Half-hearted in both mane and stripe,
No place does nature have for thee,
Bred by men's curiosity.
Textual content (except for "Liger, Liger") is licensed under the GFDL.
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