The Liger - The Largest of the "Big Cats"
What Is a Liger?
What is a liger, you ask? It is the result of mating a male lion with a female tiger. They are said to have the strength of a lion and the speed of a tiger. The liger is the biggest of the "big cats" and is one of the most beautiful big cats in existence. But, how did this happen? Some of the first cross breedings of the lion and the tiger were probably the result of accidents in zoos or animal parks. The habitats of lions and tigers typically do not overlap, therefore you will only see a liger in captivity. However, because these are such unusually large and beautiful animals, there are some zoos and animal parks around the world that are intentionally breeding these animals, mainly for the money they bring in.
History of the Liger
It has been said that the two habitats of the lion and the tiger never overlapped. That being said, there is a small, single population of the Asiatic Lion, also known as the Indian Lion, that lives in India's Gujarat State. Years ago, when the Indian Lion was prolific in this area, there is a possibility that these two habitats did overlap. There are legends of the liger living in the wild in this area. Others say that these two big cat species would sooner fight than mate if they did meet. However, the history of the liger goes as far back as the early 19th century in India. Documents and illustrations dating as far back as 1798 has also been found.
Ligers have the tawney background color of the lion and faint stripe pattern of the tiger. Some ligers show a faint rosette pattern which is inherited from the lion parent. Lion cubs have a rosette pattern when young and some lions may retain a faint rosette pattern in adulthood. Male ligers may have a mane, but it will be much smaller than that of their father's and some males will have no mane at all.
Ligers are the largest of the "big cats". They get their huge size from what is called "hybrid vigor". Hybrid vigor is defined as "the improved or increased function of any biological quality in a hybrid offspring". They will grow to be larger than either of their parents. The liger can grow to be 10 to 12 feet long and weigh between 800 to 1,200. Tigers in comparison grow to be approximately 5 to 6 feet tall and weigh up to around 500 pounds.
Ligers teeth can reach up to 2 inches in length. They normally eat anywhere from 20 to 50 pounds of food at one "sitting", but can eat up to 100 pounds at a time, compared to the ususual 10 pounds of food eaten by a lion or a tiger. Ligers can both roar like a lion and chuff like a tiger. They are very social animals, which is a trait from their fathers. Lions are very social animals, unlike the tiger which is more of a loner. Ligers also love to swim and play in the water, a trait that comes from their mothers. Lions do not like to swim and almost never enter the water.
It has been said that the ligers, being a hybrid breed, are sterile. However it is known that a female liger can reproduce. Howerver, a fertile male liger has yet to be discovererd. In 1943 a female liger was bred with a male lion, the result was a female cub, not normally healthy, but was raised to adulthood. In September of 2012, a Russian zoo announced the birth of a cub from a female liger and a male lion. The cub, called a "liliger", was named Kiara. At this time she appears to be a healthy cub.
After the mating of a male lion and a female tiger, gestation is approximately 100 days. At this time the tigress will give birth to 2 - 4 liger cubs. Just as with most big cat births, the cubs are blind and helpless. They will depend heavily on their mother for the first year of their life. Because of the cross-breeding of two different species, many cubs are born with birth defects and many do not live past their first week of life.
Hercules - The Largeset Living Liger
Hercules lives at the Jungle Island animal theme park in Miami, Florida. He is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest living liger. The latest information has Hercules weighing in at just over 1,100 pounds and stands at approximately 12 feet high. He is reported to be a very healthy cat and is expected to live a long happy life there.
The largest liger ever known was Nook, who lived in an animal sanctuary in Wisconsin. Nook weighed in at 1,213 pounds and was approximately 12 feet long. Nook died in 2007 at the age of 21 years old.
Because ligers are such unusually large and beautiful animals, many zoos and animals parks are breeding these animals intentionally. As mentioned earlier, many liger cubs are born with birth defects due to the cross breeding of two different species. Yet, some ligers have lived as long as 21 years. Accredited zoos in the US frown on this cross breeding and lions and tigers and many countries around the world have been such breeding. In the US, you may find ligers in animals parks or rescue centers where most of them have been placed after being abandoned or neglected.
Should the intentionall breeding of these two species be continued? Is it right to create an animal such as this that will never be allowed to run free in the wild? Is it moral to intentionally breed these animals, just because we can?
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© 2013 Sheila Brown
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