Coming into the refuge, two of the first animals you may meet are Fergy, the female liger, and Lakota, the male ti-liger. With Lakota in particular, one of the first things guests notice about him is his size, since he’s one of our largest cats at the refuge! Our hybrids are very large, but there is a specific reason for this!
What is a liger?
A liger is a hybrid between a male lion and a female tiger (not to be confused with a tigon, which is the opposite!). You wouldn’t find this hybrid out in the wild, because lions live in Africa and tigers live in Asia. This means that they would never meet each other naturally! Ligers are only found in captivity, where people have purposefully bred these animals for the entertainment industry. However, because these two species shouldn’t mix, their genetics can create some surprising effects!
Why are they so Big?
When looking into the size of ligers, it’s important to look at the mating strategies of lions and tigers. Female lions mate with several males, meaning that a male lion’s children may need to compete with the children of other males. This means that each male will want their children to be as large as they possibly can, and have adapted to have a specific “growth” gene they pass on. Female lions, however, have adapted a growth-limiting gene in response to this, so that their children do not become too large. Tigers, however, don’t have to worry about this competition, and females have never needed to develop this growth-limiting gene. While this is fine for normal mating, issues can occur when lions and tigers intermix.
Since female tigers do not have the growth-limiting genes, ligers are able to grow quite large because of the growth gene from their lion father. The average adult tiger weighs between 200-500 pounds, while the average lion is between 250-450 pounds. However, ligers average between 700-900 pounds! The largest (non-obese) liger recorded weighed 922 pounds!
Birth can be dangerous for the tiger mother, since these cubs are much larger than a normal tiger cub. Unfortunately, many ligers do not survive birth because of this. But once they do, the health issues do not stop there. Ligers typically have a shorter lifespan than their lion and tiger parents. One reason for this is that they are susceptible to organ failure, due to their too-large bodies. They can also be born with neurological and genetic defects.
Even though these hybrids shouldn’t exist, people still try to create them, meaning these animals will eventually end up needing a forever home. At Turpentine Creek, we have 4 lion-tiger hybrids: Fergy and Karma, female ligers; Kyro, a male li-liger; and Lakota, a male ti-liger. We love these four, but we hope the day comes that these hybrids won’t be created for people’s entertainment!