Have you ever heard of ligers? They aren’t mythical creatures. They’re the offspring of a female tiger and a male lion. They resemble a striped lion and are comfortable in the water, like tigers. There are other hybrid breeds as well, such as tigons (with a tiger for a father and a lioness for a mother), leopon (offspring of a leopard and a lion), and jaguleps (the progeny of a jagurar and a leopard).
Hybrids like ligers and leopons do not occur in nature. In nature, these breeds do not reproduce with one another. It only happens when man interferes.
Hybrid breeds are a product of animals in captivity. They are crossbred by man, usually to attract greater audiences to wildlife parks and zoos. It may seem fascinating to see a crossbred, hybrid creature in real life, but this hybridization comes with a darker side.
The darker side?
According to one expert, hybrid species have a significantly greater chance of being genetically handicapped. They tend to suffer from problems like infertility among other defects. But since big cat hybrids don’t exist in nature, scientists haven’t been able to confirm these suspicions.
There’s also the matter that a lot of crossbred hybrids have lived healthy lives, some even producing offspring of their own. This was the case in a Russian zoo where a female liger bred with a male lion, giving birth to what was referred to as a liliger.
The exact number of hybrid big cats is also unknown, but some experts think the number around the one hundred mark.
Hybrids don’t help conservation
According to experts, hybrids don’t help with genetic diversity in big cats and they possess no value when it comes to conservation. A hybrid of a the endangered lion and tiger does nothing to conserve either species.
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums is against hybridization. They argue that zoos should be a sanctuary for endangered animals and that education about conservation should be their priority. The association argues that the propagation of animals that don’t represent the normal variation and characteristics of a species only creates the wrong educational message.
Luke Dollar, a conservation scientist, claims that crossbreeding big cats is unethical, resulting from ignorance and greed. He argues that it is unnatural and against biological practices found in the wild.
The case for hybrids
Proponents for hybridization argue that it does in fact occur in nature. If it doesn’t occur between lions and tigers, it still occurs in other animals, particularly when mating opportunities become scarce. It is known to occur between wolves and coyotes, resulting in coywolves. Additionally, grizzly bears have been known to mate with polar bears, producing pizzlies.