Why do Liger and Tigon hybrids differ

"Nomen est omen" certainly applies to this section of my homepage. Here I would like to take a closer look at reproduction in mixed partnerships and what purposes humans pursue with it.

While hybrids and bastards are likely to be imagined by everyone, the subject is quite interesting. These animals are combinations of tigers, lions and leopards. I disregard all other big cats in this consideration.

The animals resulting from such crossings have been given their own names. The hybrids between tiger and lion have two different names, depending on which species the father or mother belonged to. If the father is a tiger and the mother is a lioness, one speaks of a tigon (English tiger + lion). Vice versa one speaks of a Liger (English Lion + Tiger).

The only place where such a pairing could occur naturally is the aforementioned Gir Forrest National Park. However, since there are no tigers living here, a Tigon or Liger is a “product” of humans. However, a cross between tiger and leopard can occur in nature, as these two big cats share a habitat. The difference in size is therefore likely to be the primary (“biggest”) problem. However, such a pairing is extremely unlikely, but possible. As for the naming, I can only say that hybrids between lion and leopard are named leopons. Hybrids between tiger and leopard are commonly called tigards. Since no case is known in which a leopard is the father, there is no name for such offspring. However, Pargon is in talks for any offspring.

There is a known case in which a tiger fertilized a female leopard, but no living offspring were born because the female leopard was born prematurely - this was in Hamburg-Hagenbeck. Other reports of such hybrids also exist but cannot be classified as credible. Tigon and Liger were mainly bred and kept in zoological gardens. The zoos in Hamburg-Stellingen and Munich-Hellabrunn deserve special mention. In general, there are more ligers than tigons in the zoos.

The characteristics that the hybrids combine in themselves tend to be more similar to the father than to the mother. I dare to doubt that one can make such statements on the basis of the relatively little experience with such animals, but now I take these findings for granted. In addition to the usual expected effects, such as the combination of the fur pattern and some other characteristics, there are even more interesting phenomena.

The most obvious is the so-called heterosis effect (in ligers). Some experts may be familiar with this term from botany. In fact, it means the same thing here, namely bastard or giant stature. First generation hybrids usually exceed their parents enormously. In the case of higher generations, the course of the intersection must be observed very precisely in order to make predictions. For example, hybrids between tiger and lion can weigh more than half a ton, which is sometimes more than the two parents put on the scales. Tigons, on the other hand, tend to be dwarfed. Furthermore, ligers grow faster than your parents, while tigons grow more slowly.

For a long time it was also postulated that all hybrids were sterile in principle. As Prof. P. Leyhausen proved in 1950 at the latest, it was really only a postulate. Although there is a clear trend towards sterility, especially in male hybrids (due to errors in spermiogenesis), one cannot speak of general sterility. All male mammal bastards have this problem. The cause and background for this frequent infertility are still largely unanswered, but genetic engineering will undoubtedly soon be able to clear up some ambiguities here too.

Despite these circumstances, it can be concluded that the tiger and lion are not as closely related phylogenetically as one might assume. As already mentioned, the dominant characteristics of one of the parents always prevail for certain characteristics. However, a multitude occurs intermediate and therefore cannot be clearly categorized as lion-like or tiger-like. Measurements on the skull are a prime example of this. Besides the fact that it is possible to breed hybrids of the big cats, the question arises as to why this should be done. The professional world mainly cites arguments such as clarification of kinship and ancestry research.

Curiously, these findings are rated higher in their value than one might think at first glance. To counter all scientific research, there are also far more “worldly” reasons for such crossings. These hybrids were and are particularly popular in variety and curiosity shows. Very few visitors to such a show seriously think about an animal that looks like an oversized lion with tiger stripes. The assumption that these animals also occur in the wild and therefore there is nothing wrong with displaying them here seems to be very widespread.

The scientific endeavors on this matter may be on the verge of acceptability, but breeding for purely commercial reasons is definitely not acceptable. In the age of genetics, however, not only zoologists are interested in a successful cross. Geneticists in particular are often fascinated by such experiments, since research on other more highly developed living beings, such as primates, is regulated by strict and “well” controlled laws.

A very common justification for such dubious experiments is simply the fact that you can. The reason is not only flimsy but also one of the stupidest that can be given. Not everything that can be done deserves to be done. This problem gives me headaches every now and then because I find it very difficult to stay true to my own resolutions with certain things. While ethical concerns should not be overdone, there is no reason to breed such hybrids for non-scientific purposes. Incidentally, there is also a limit beyond which scientific considerations are exhausted and there is no further reason for such experiments.


Liger:

Usually only the normal-colored tigresses have been mated with a normal-colored lion, or have mated. However, in the past lions were also brought together with white tigresses, the reason was of course to get a white liger. In similar whites, golden tigresses (tabbies) were crossed with lions to obtain golden ligers. Liger is a general name that does not have a scientific counterpart, but you can often find word structures such as Panthera leotigris.

As already indicated by me above, some ligers show great similarities with lions, while others show their tiger ancestry very strongly. The fur of a liger tends to have the light brown fur coloration of a lion. The tiger skin stripes on this basic tone are not mine, but split up and reunite. The shape of a candle most closely resembles this picture. Especially in the head area, the stripes change so much that they look like dots. These points probably stem from the lion's heritage, because the lions also have a point mark in their fur after birth, which in a liger hardly seems to disappear with age. In the case of the tiger's eye spots, there are no regularities in the liger. It's a coincidence whether or not he trains them, just like a tiger's ruff.

The vocalizations that can be heard in a liger, however, are not only lion-like or tiger-like, there is also no intermediate vocabulary. In fact, a liger has the full vocabulary of a lion and a tiger. The lion's roar can also be heard from a liger, but without the lion's typical "grunt" sound at the end.

It should be noted that the largest cat living today is a liger. In the Guinness Book of Records, a liger weighs around 590 kilos. The heaviest Amur tiger that has ever been measured (no scientific evidence and therefore not listed anywhere else by me) weighed around 500 kilos. Erected, a liger is around 4m tall.

It is particularly noteworthy that a liger (or ligerin) apparently inherits a preference for water. However, it always seems as if you internally, the lion side in you, have to convince you to go into the water. In a zoological garden, a pride of lions with a liger was observed as the lions asked the liger to go into the water and retrieve a piece of prey / food that had fallen into the water. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any further information on this.

However, unlike ligers, female ligers are not as often sterile, which is why further attempts at crossbreeding have been made with them. If by chance a terrible liger should reproduce, this is unlikely (but possible), but has been incorporated into the reproduction table accordingly (ligers with a ligerine logically result in a liger again):

   

(the last two lines are unlikely and names are not defined uniformly, but differ among the researchers)

Until a few years ago, a 15-year-old female Liger lived in Munich's Hellabrunn Zoo. She was mated to a lion and thus actually gave birth to a Li-Liger. Unfortunately I don't have any information about the whereabouts. In general, however, it is more of a posture error, i.e. a human error, that such connections occur in nature. Until recently it was not scientifically recognized that such hybrids could exist. So tigresses were held together with a lion and until the time when the little liger was born, the zoo director thought it was impossible that something like this was possible. Although it cannot be ruled out that there were wild / free-living ligers in the past, no evidence exists to this day.


(male Ti-Liger, approx. 6 months old)


Tigon:

A tigon is the opposite of a liger, even from different angles. The parents are exactly in the reverse order than in the case of the liger. Furthermore, tigons tend to be short stature and not, like the ligers, to gigantic stature. Tigons are also much more difficult to hold, and pairing the parents is much more complicated. Today there is no reliable evidence that there is a living tigon, but an estimated 10 tigons are in private keeping.

In terms of size, a Tigon usually does not reach the size of its parents. Large tigons usually have the dimensions of a very small tiger or a large lioness. There are exceptions to this rule, but these are extremely rare. So you cannot compete with lions or tigers (at most with lionesses and tigresses), let alone with a liger. In numbers, a Tigon weighs around 155 kilos.


(female Tigon, around 2 years old)

There is a documented security about the existence of Tigon from the year 2000. Towards the end of the year, a pair of siblings, a Tigon and a Tigon, who were born in a circus, were kept for a few days in the Australian National Zoo. The animals were probably confiscated because of the poor keeping conditions. However, an agreement was reached with the circus to house the tigons and some of the tigers from the circus itself in a private facility, as the zoo itself should not have had any capacity. No further details are known about the whereabouts.

However, with information from this private station, there is a targeted search for opportunities to breed tigons. The pair of tigons that I mentioned above mated with each other, but never offspring were produced. There should also have been attempts with ligers, li-ligers and other big cats. In my eyes, this should not be the real point, but the idea that comes to mind is that tigons and other hybrids should be bred there with the support of renowned researchers in the field of reproductive science. And the temptation to be the only zoo in the world to hold tigons could also have cast a spell over the Australian National Zoo - but that's just my private opinion.

In the following I would like to show the reproduction table, as for the ligers. In this case, too, it is extremely unlikely that a male Tigon could be considered as a father, but some terms have been formed that are also not widely recognized and are only used by individual researchers (Tigon + Tigon = Tigon):

   
(the last two lines are unlikely and names are not defined uniformly, but differ among the researchers)
 

Like a liger, the tigons inherit a preference for water, but seem to have far fewer problems actually getting into the water.Apart from this exception and the size, as well as the rate of maturation, Liger and Tigon seem to develop identically. Tigons also make tiger and lion noises and occasionally form a small mane. However, like the liger, they cannot keep up with the mane of a "normal" lion. If anything, the manes of the hybrids are much more modest than is normally the case in lions.

The other hybrids of the tiger are mathematically about 75% tigers and only 25% lions. At this level, the offspring develop very few, if any, lion traits. In terms of appearance, they are almost indistinguishable from normal tigers. However, they can still be easily recognized by the fact that they also make typical lion noises. Further deviations from "normal" tigons are not currently known.

Reports of tigons from the Calcutta zoo are known from the early 1970s. There was also a targeted attempt to breed tigons. And this also succeeded. The proof is Rudhrani (1971) and Rangini (1974) - both females. Atypical of tigons, however, Rangini looked more like a lioness than a tigress. Her sister, on the other hand, is much more tiger-like. By the way, the mother was an African lioness and not an Asian.

Rudhrani was then purposefully crossed with a lion and before her death in 1983 she had given birth to around seven Li-Tigons. The same experiments were planned for Rangini, but changed at the time when she became sexually mature, thanks to the efforts of Indira Ghandi, the conservation policy towards these crossbreeding attempts. However, there remains the bland aftertaste that the zoo officially stopped the experiments, as there was no possibility of breeding fertile male offspring and the parents of von Rangini and Rudhrani died.

It was not until 1985, however, that a decree was issued in India that forbade these attempts at breeding. Only a few years after this decree, Rangini came full circle because she succumbed to cancer. Unlike her sister, however, she had never suffered the stress of crossbreeding (like her sister). At least this is gratifying!

There are also reports of the birth of an extremely rare Ti-Tigon in Shambala Preserve, India. Back then it was mistakenly assumed that all female tigons were sterile as well. So she was brought into an enclosure with an Amur tiger. As in the case above with the Ligers, the zoologists and veterinarians built up not badly when a Ti-Tigon was born on September 16, 1983 - Nathaniel.

I mention this case because it is also something very special for other reasons. Although Noelle (the Tigon) mastered the tiger and lion languages, she only "spoke" to Nathaniel in the tiger language. And despite his mother's inheritance, Nathaniel could only understand the tiger sounds and could not speak the lion language, but he did develop a mane. Both succumbed to the same cancer about nine years after Nathaniel was born.


(Nathaniel left, Noelle right)


The big cat hybrids between tiger and lion seem to be able to keep up with the life expectancy of normal tigers or lions. The immune system also seems to be functioning properly in most cases. However, one finds more and more in the record that ligers, tigons as well as the other hybrids, increasingly die from cancer. The reason is probably to be found in the fact that the DNA of the hybrids destabilizes faster than is usually the case. The exact genetic background is largely unexplored.

Nowadays it is "only" possible to breed hybrid animals that have the same number of chromosomes and are genetically more similar than the majority of the population. In the field of genetics, however, advances are being made so quickly that it will soon be possible to hybridize animals with different chromosome numbers and further genetic removal - according to scientific expertise. At this point, my little information is unfortunately exhausted for the time being, but I still hope to have conveyed some things well.


For information about the hybrids and hybrids of cats or if you have any questions about the hybridization of the tiger, please write me an email: