What exactly is a hybrid? The Merriam Webster dictionary states a hybrid is “an offspring of 2 animals or plants of different subspecies, breeds, varieties, species, or genera.” Hybrids can be found in the wild occurring naturally like a mule or a coywolf. When naming hybrids, the male will always be the first part of the name while the female will be the second part of the name.
Big cats don’t naturally create hybrids. Hybrids that naturally exist in the wild, breed together to benefit their species. The main benefit is the survival of passing on their DNA to keep their species alive. Big cats don’t have benefits when bred together, instead, there are lots of health issues they face.
One major health issue is gigantism which happens in ligers: a male lion mixed with a female tiger. Gigantism occurs when both parents don’t have the growth inhibitor gene that stops the animals from growing. In lions, the male lion does not have these genes and the female lion does. In tigers, the male tiger has this gene and the female tigers do not. Gigantism causes these animals to grow un-naturally and quickly. Organs end up not being able to keep up and cause the animals to have shorter lifespans.
Another big cat hybrid is known as a tigon: a male tiger mixed with a female lion. These are not as common as ligers because most of them don’t survive past infancy. Both parents end up having the growth inhibitor gene which suppresses the tigon’s growth. They will be a lot smaller. If they do make it past infancy, they have a higher chance of suffering from neurological and physical conditions.
Hybrids are generally sterile, and that holds true for male big cat hybrids. Female hybrids can reproduce 50% of the time. With them being able to reproduce, we end up with hybrids from hybrids, or secondary hybrids: li-ligers, ti-ligers, li-tigons, and ti-tigons. You can imagine how confusing that can get!
Now Turpentine has been home to several ligers over the years, but we have also been home to a few secondary hybrids. Currently, we have a ti-liger named Lakota and a li-liger named Kyro. A ti-liger essentially looks like a tiger since they do have more tiger in them, but they also can be extremely large! A li-liger honestly looks a lot like a regular liger, and because they have more lion in them, they will have faint spots on their body instead of stripes like a regular liger.
Now, remember, you will not find these animals in the wild which means they are man-made creatures! Any true facility will not force something to breed, especially when they shouldn’t even exist! When visiting other places, be on the lookout for hybrids. If they are being bred, then you know something isn’t right! They’re not a true facility!