You may have heard of a Liger - the offspring of a Lion and a Tiger - but now a Russian zoo has released photos of a so-called “Liliger”.
The Liliger is the offspring of a Liger mother and a Lion father. The cub, born last week at Novosibirsk Zoo, may be the only Liliger in existence and while the the cuddly cub appears charming, mix-and-match felines raise serious concerns for advocates of big-cat conservation.
Ligers are the result of a male Lion mating with a female Tiger. Craig Packer, director of the Lion Research Center at the University of Minnesota, said he hasn’t heard of a liliger before but is “not surprised” that it exists.
All Ligers are born in captivity, Packer said, because this animal simply does not exist in the natural world. Not only are wild lion and tiger populations separated by geography, there are certain behavior mechanisms in place that would prevent the two species from mating. If a tiger tried to mate with a female lion it would be chased away by the other lions pretty fast, and vice versa.
That can change in captivity. Given no other options, lions and tigers may breed. Lions and tigers are separated by about seven million years of evolution, but they are still closely enough related that they can hybridize.
In the wild, an animal like the Liliger would probably be very mixed up. Lions are genetically predisposed to be very sociable and cooperative. While Tigers are genetically predisposed to be very ornery and solitary.
While zoos in some countries do cross-breed cats (probably for the publicity value), U.S. zoos typically do not. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the accrediting body for zoos in North America, does not approve of Ligers, said spokesperson Steve Feldman, and no AZA zoos breed them.
Modern zoological institutions instead focus, quite rightly, on wildlife-conservation programs. This is particularly important when you consider that there are fewer than 40,000 Lions in the world today, with the Tiger population no more than 6,000 in the wild.
Breeding a Liger, Liliger or Tigon actually damages conservation efforts. It uses up resources, veterinary care for example, that could have been focused on efforts to breed a whole litter of healthy Lion or Tiger cubs.
It’s unnecessary, irrelevant and a waste to spend time manufacturing unnatural hybrids but more importantly, it’s not helping anyone.
(Photo and Information courtesy of National Geographic)