TIGON (TION, TIGRON, TIGLON)

 

The offspring of a male tiger and a lioness is a tigon (alternative names are tion, tigron or tiglon). Tigons have no scientific name, but Panthera tigris X leo has been posited. That lions and tigers can be crossbred is well documented. 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. L Reisinger(1929) reported a male liger as weighing as much as both parents together.

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 [liger]." 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.

Tigons are currently rarer than ligers. It is suggested that male tigers find the courtship behaviour of a lioness too subtle and may miss behavioural cues that she is willing to mate (though lionesses actively solicit mating). It is more likely that their smaller size makes them less attractive exhibits than ligers. This is borne out by the fact that in the 19th century and early 20th century, tigons were more common than ligers.

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.

Tiger crosses in captivity have been common for centuries. There is a recorded cross-breeding in India which dates back to 1837 when a tigon was presented to Queen Victoria from the princess of Jamnagar (an Indian state). The first record of tigon breeding in Britain came from a touring circus in the 19th Century. They had a tiger and a lioness which produced litter after litter of hybrid cubs. Queen Victoria saw the circus at a command performance at Windsor and the latest litter of hybrid cubs was shown to her. One of the best known early tigons was Ranji, a huge male who was bred by Prince Ranjitsinji, Maharajah Jam Sahib of Nawangagar and presented by him to the Zoological Gardens in Regent's Park in 1924 or 1928. Mr. Frohawk was commissioned by The Field to sketch Ranji. He found him shy and said "The hybrid favors [resembles] the tiger rather than the lion in the shape of the body and head and it is particularly interesting to note that although the creature is a male, the mane is not larger than that possessed by some tigers and there is at most a small tuft at the end of the tail. The coat, however, is tawny and entirely lacks the reddish-orange hue characteristic of all tigers except those of the colder regions of central Asia. The stripes, nevertheless, although comparatively faint are clearly traceable and the lower parts of the body are whitish as in tigers."

Late 1920s/early 1930s: A keeper introduces a lion cub to a tiger cub in a hamper with a view to them sharing a cage. The young tiger is described as "furious" when the lid is raised while the young lion is merely curious. At the time, mixed exhibits were considered most attractive. In Germany, Hagenbeck accomplished mixed exhibits of lions, tigers, bears and hyenas.

Late 1920s/early 1930s: A lion and tiger accustomed to sharing a cage, though the relationship was described as mutual tolerance rather than friendship.

 

A tigon is often smaller than either a lion or tiger though some have attained or exceeded the size of the smaller parent. They may be less robust than either parent. There is less interest in them because they are less spectacular than ligers. The actual size and appearance depends on which subspecies are bred together and how the genes interact. The smaller size of the tigress compared to the lion means that cubs may be stillborn, premature (there isn't enough space in the womb for them to develop any further) or sickly and not able to survive. Premature birth can lead to health problems in those that do survive.

The tigon supposedly bred at London Zoo (probably Ranji, imported from India) was exhibited in the lion house. Another observer described it as a striped beast with a ruff round its neck and a surprised expression. Belle Vue Zoo in Manchester, England had a succession of tigons between 1936 and 1968. Kliou (male) and Maude (female) were born at Dresden Zoo, Germany in 1932 and were bred from a Manchurian tiger x African lioness mating. They were acquired by the Hagenbecks at an early age. Gerald Iles of Belle Vue Zoo obtained them from Heinrich Hagenbeck at Hamburg Zoo in 1936. Gerald Iles, who obtained them for Belle Vue Zoo wrote in "At Home In The Zoo" (1961): "The male was a large animal with a mane - not so much as a lion but more than the ruff of a tiger. His general colour was a pale fawn with light brown shadow stripes on the head and body. The under parts were almost white, as in the tiger, and the ears bore the marking of the tiger and the colour of the lion. The female was similar except taat she lacked the mane. She was larger than the usual tigress or lioness. Both roared like lions. The price for the pair was £325 which I though comparitively cheap for such rarities, even in those days."

To begin with, Kliou and Maude shared an enclosure and mated frequently, but they later fought when Maude repelled Kliou's attempts to mate and had to be housed separately. Kliou made repeated attempts to get into Maude's cage. Kliou died of tuberculosis in March 1942 and Maude became even more serene and regal. She died aged 18 of gastro-enteritis in December 1949 after catching a chill when the lion house heating failed. In 1957, Belle Vue zoo obtained another tigon called Rita. Rita came from Paris Zoo who had obtained her from the "Sultan" of Morocco. She was smaller than either Kliou or Maude, perhaps coming from different subspecies of lion and tiger, and lived until February 23rd, 1968. When Manchester zoo's last tigon died it was valued at $12,000.

Left: Female tigon and her male ti-tigon offspring sired by a Siberian tiger. The ti-tigon is 75% tiger and more tiger-like than his mother.  

Right: Male tigon showing pale striping and lion-like mane.


"At the zoological Gardens in London there has been produced a most interesting hybrid between a tiger and a lion. It has been dubbed the "tigon". It is decidedly not a noble-looking beast, is very long in the leg, where the stripes are most prominent, and of a general sandy hue." The image (from "Wonders of Animal Life" edited by J A Hammerton (1930)) appears to be an edited photograph to give readers the general impression of such a beast (it is probably Ranji, noted earlier).


Female tigon from Manchester, England

 

Three "tiglon" cubs owned by Mr and Mrs Lawrence (Jungle Larry) Tetzlaff of Caribbean Gardens, Naples, Florida (now Naples Zoo).

Evelyn Currie, one of the first female lion and tiger tamers for Ringling Brothers Circuses, had a a tiglon that she boasted (incorrectly) was the only one in captivity in the world. In 1966 her "tiglon" Tillie, was exhibited at Dietch's Zoo in Fairlawn, New Jersey

Three tigons were born in Ohio Park Zoo (Sandusky, Ohio) in 1969 (The Chicago Tribune) and at the time there were believed to be only 4 tigons in the world. The tigons were featured in several newspapers in July and August 1975.

In July 1998, the Indian Express Newspaper reported the approaching death of the country's last known surviving zoo tigon. Ranjini, born in 1973, resembled a lioness in size and shape, but with a slightly smaller head and jaw and a brighter yellow coat with faint tiger-like stripes. Ranjini, kept at Calcutta zoo, was bred from a Bengal tiger and an African lion and lived to the age of 25 years. There were only 2 known living tigons in 1976; both in Calcutta zoo: a 5 year old female named Rudrani and her 3 year old sister Ranjini. The zoo's first tigon was Rudhrani, born in 1971, was mated to an Asiatic lion called Debabrata and produced 7 li-tigons in her lifetime. Some of these reached impressive sizes - a li-tigon named Cubanacan (died April 12th, 1991) was believed to weigh at least 800lb/363 kg, stood 52 inches/1.32m at the shoulder and 11.5ft/3.5 m total length (1994: GBWR "largest litigin"). However, Ranjini was not allowed to have a mate due to pressure to end the breeding of hybrids. The zoo was also discouraged by the problem of sterility in the male hybrids (in both tigons and li-tigons). The original tiger and lioness, parents of the two female tigons, had also died, ending the prospect of producing further tigons. In 1985, the Indian Government forbade the cross-breeding of lions and tigers following a campaign by the Worldwide Fund for Nature. This ended a long tradition of lion/tiger breedings in the country. These date back to 1837 when the princess of Jamnagar (an Indian state) presented a tigon to Queen Victoria.

Tigons were also once kept at a French safari park on the estate of an (unidentified) aristocrat. When female tigon Noelle was born at Shambala in 1978, there were only 3 other tigons known in the United States (there might have been others in private hands). Apollo, a tigon at Moscow zoo, was bred from an Ussuri tiger. A tigon was kept at the Valley Of The Kings sanctuary in Wisconsin. Java, a male tigon, was 3 years old in 1998 and came from a farm in Mississipi to protect him from mistreatment, according to the JES Exotic Sanctuary (now Valley of the Kings) in Sharon, Wisconsin, about 100 kilometres west of Chicago. He was undersized at 375 lbs, but was still growing. Java the tigon was killed by lightning during a severe storm in 1999. According to Valley of the Kings (correspondence), there may be as many as 30 or 40 tigons in captivity in 2005, most being owned by private collectors who may have obtained them illegally and who do not advertise their existence. China's first tigon was born at Hongshan Zoo in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, in 2002. It lived only one week.

In December 2000, Australia's National Zoo in Canberra acquired a brother and sister pair of tigons. Aster (male) and Tangier (female) had been bred accidentally in 1987 at a circus to a Bengal tiger and a lioness. They were hand-raised and spent their first several years at a private facility. In 1994, while the tigons were at Ashton's Circus, a toddler lost both his arms when he put them through the bars of the tigons' cage and was severely mauled by Aster. The tigons were 7 years old. The resulting claim stated that the tigons had been placed in an inappropriate area that was a clear attraction for children. There was no safety fencing and the perimeter was not properly supervised. The circus also lacked safe and proper procedures for the housing and exercising of the tigons. Because the facility did not provide adequate quality housing, along with its lions and tigers from the facility, the tigons were moved to the National Zoo. In spite of a "no hybrids" policy, the Zoo took the tigons on humane grounds because there were few other options for the pair.

At almost 20 years old, Aster and Tangier were healthy, having been overweight when they arrived at the Zoo (Aster has since died of old age). They occupied a large enclosure with log climbing frames and a moat in which they sometimes paddle. They ate about 4 kgs of beef, horse, kangaroo, goat, rabbit and chicken per day, excepting 2 "starve" days to mimic the normal lifestyle of big cats (not all hunts are successful). Aster weighed approx 160 kg (around the same as a large adult female Bengal tiger, but small for a male). Tangier weighs 145 kg (average for an adult female Bengal). They had been housed together for their entire life and mated regularly when Tangier was in season. Due to the sterility of male tigons, no offspring were produced. Although the tigons are popular attractions with visitors, the Zoo has no plans to breed further hybrids or to mate Tangier to either a lion or tiger to ascertain whether she is fertile.

In August 2001, Shanghai Safari Park had 4 tigon cubs from an accidental pairing of African lioness "Huanhuan" and Siberian tiger "Huihui". Unfortunately, none survived. The two male and two female cubs' legs and necks resembled their mother, but their faces and tails were tiger-like. The front part of their bodies were lion-like and the rear part tiger-like. The parents were both 3 years old and are stars of the park's animal troupe. The lioness was in her mating season when the troupe was on a out-of-city tour and chose the tiger as her mate. The 4 dead cubs will be preserved as specimens and put on display. In 2005, 2 tigons and 3 ligers were bred at the Shenzhen safari park, in southern China (near Hong Kong). In April 2005, a "tigron" (which was actually a liger!) 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.

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.

 

LIGER & TIGON COLOURS

White tigers have been crossed with lions to produce white ligers. Everland Zoo (Yongin Farm Zoo) in Seoul, Korea has produced white ligers, possibly from white tigers and leucistic lionesses. 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 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.

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)

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