Sunday, March 6, 2011

Apple #510: Ligers

A relatively new reader of the Daily Apple has asked me if I would do an entry on ligers.  When I pointed out that I discussed them briefly in an entry on cross-bred animals, he said that wasn't enough.  He wanted more.

Pah.  Ligers deserve more than a picture.  And a better one than that.  I would humbly suggest a whole apple on them (along with their offshoots).  The coolest thing about them is that they are HUGE compared to lions, tigers, or other combinations.  So huge that they can't really survive on their own - they'd get too pooped trying to catch prey.  And zoos won't display them since they're "fake", so they only exist where individuals have the resources to make them and keep them on their own.  Also, I remember seeing a whole Liger / Tigon chart.  It starts with lions and tigers at the top, then get different names with each successive cross-bred combination.  Like Litigers and Tiligons and stuff like that.  And Ligers are very specific - mom has to be one, dad has to be another.  That's the difference between a Liger and a Tigon.

OK, Mr. Humbly Suggest.  Here are your ligers.

This gives you an idea of how big a liger can get.  With this particular liger, the fur is the color of a lion's but has the stripes of a tiger. Some ligers may be more orange in color, or have a more obvious mane around the face.
(Photo from truthorfiction)

  • The first thing to know, as Mr. Humbly Suggest has already said, is that ligers are the result of a male lion mating with a female tiger.
  • (Female lion plus male tiger = tigon.)
  • Ligers like to swim, which is true of tigers but not lions. Some handlers report that ligers are confused the first few times they're presented with water, as if their lion part wants nothing to do with water while their tiger part does.
  • Ligers grow to be larger than either a lion or a tiger.  Some get to be as big as 800 or 1,000 pounds.

This is either Sinbad or Hercules. Both are among the biggest ligers at T.I.G.E.R.S., a place which regularly breeds ligers and other exotic, cross-bred animals.
(Photo from T.I.G.E.R.S.)

  • By comparison, a captive tiger would be unlikely to reach 650 pounds.
  • Ligers get to be so big because they're lacking some growth-inhibiting gene.  Or maybe there are 3 or 4 of those genes that are missing.  Sources conflict on this point, probably because researchers aren't really sure what's going on at the genetic level.
  • Their size means that adult ligers eat a ton of meat -- well, maybe not a ton. They eat about 50 pounds of raw meat in a single meal.
  • But since these animals don't exist in the wild, they've never caught their own food but always lived in confined areas.  As a result, they're not very good at catching prey.  Either they get worn out, or their muscles simply aren't up to the task of moving such enormous bulk at speeds necessary to catch and kill enough food to feed themselves.

This is a liger named Freckles.  Looks Photoshopped, doesn't it?  But no, that's a real liger.
(Photo from Big Cat Rescue)

  • Usually ligers are sterile, but every once in a great while, a female liger might turn out to be fertile.  
  • You could mate her with a male lion or a male tiger, but never a male liger.  This is because there has never been any such thing as a fertile male liger.
  • Here are some of the combinations that are possible from breeding lions and tigers and their cross-bred offspring:
      • M lion + F tiger = liger
      • M tiger + F lion = tigon
      • M lion + F liger = li-liger
      • M lion + F tigon = li-tigon
      • M tiger + F liger = ti-liger
      • M tiger + F tigon = ti-tigon
      • M liger = 0
      • M tigon = 0
  • Lions and tigers in the wild live in very different places -- basically, one lives in Africa and the other in India -- so on their own, they wouldn't mate and reproduce offspring.  If you see such a thing as a liger or a tigon, it's the result of a person getting involved in the mating and breeding of the big cats.
  • Here's what one site has to say about breeding ligers and tigons:
Respectable zoos frown on the breeding of hybrids such as ligers and tigons, as they have no value from a conservation point of view and are taking up space and resources that could be used to breed endangered species. They are basically freaks bred by unscrupulous zoos in order to make money out of people willing to pay to see them. 
  • Often the young ligers have serious birth defects and don't live long after birth. Some develop neurological disorders such as head shakes, and these young ligers don't live long either.
  • In addition, since the ligers are larger than their parents, they may grow too large even in the womb. So the tigresses who carry them have to undergo C-section deliveries or may even die in the process of giving birth to a liger.

These liger cubs were born in a zoo in Taiwan in 2010. The tiger mother rejected them, so they had to be hand-raised by zoo staff.  The Taiwan zoo maintains that the breeding of these cubs was "accidental," as a result of the tigers and lions living in the same enclosure.  Conservation groups said they didn't care whether it was accidental or not, that these cubs represented a violation of the Wildlife Conservation Law, and that the zoo should be fined.  I couldn't find an update about the story to learn whether the zoo had actually paid the fine or not.

  • Big Cat Rescue asks, if you agree that the breeding of ligers (and tigons) is irresponsible and not actually animal-friendly, and if you see a liger at a zoo or on TV, that you contact Big Cat Rescue or notify your local media.

Sorry, Mr. Requester, but it sounds like this is another instance when bigger is not necessarily better.

Sources, What Is a Liger?
Big Cat Rescue, Ligers
Tiger Territory, Ligers
Los Angeles Times, Your morning adorable: controversial baby ligers in Taiwan, August 16, 2010
BBC, Taiwan zoo faces fine over 'liger' cubs, August 16, 2010


  1. Mr. Humbly Suggest3/06/2011 11:05 PM

    Well done! Good to know I retained my liger facts relatively well. Although I beg to differ on one comment: in the case of ligers, bigger is DEFINITELY better. My kids and I (especially I) would be totally psyched to see a 1,000 lb liger added to our local collection at the zoo. Even if he/she is an abomination...
    Thanks again, Apple Lady! (and PS, you forgot the nod to Napoleon Dynamite)

  2. Those people in that second picture look as unnatural as that liger.

  3. Thanks for this amazing article. It is really well documented and I learned new things from it. I recently discovered ligers and I have to say they are amazing. Thanks again.

  4. I saw a liger today. I knew what it was, because of you. Thanks!

  5. @Mr. Humbly Suggest: The "liger" reference in Napolean Dynamite wasn't this kind of was referring to the not yet achieved half tiger/half woman type... :S Not advisable as she would have one hell of a temper!


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