Ligers are a cross between specifically a male lion and a female tiger. They are a man-made animal and not considered a real species because they would not occur naturally in the wild. Lions are from Africa and tigers are from Asia so there is no reason for their breeding other than human entertainment. Since the males are always sterile (cannot reproduce), this also means that they are not a true species of animals.
Humans have created this hybrid species due to their large size and entertainment value, and are only kept in captivity. There are approximately only 100 ligers that exist in the world. It is quite difficult to have two different species that want to mate with each other, so usually females are artificially inseminated (not natural). The largest liger to date weighs over 900 pounds, almost twice the size of an average lion or tiger. It is thought that ligers suffer from gigantisms, meaning they do not stop growing. Due to the lack of scientific value or research, this hypothesis is not proven, however, they are extremely large and suffer from bone, joint, and muscle problems due to their size.
Since these two species are not meant to breed together, there is a high chance of genetic defects and dying at a young age. They also suffer from frequent bouts of cancer, organ failure, and body deformities. Ligers have 50/50 traits of a lion and a tiger, with a tawny (light brown) coloring to their coat and stripes of a tiger. Part of their allure is their interesting looks and their massive size, but they have absolutely NO conservation value. The only reason they exist is because they are exploited for profit. They are not helping the genetic diversity of big cat species, and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) recognizes that they are harming the conservation and education efforts of big cat species.
A tigon is a cross between specifically a male tiger and a female lion. Tigons have similar traits to ligers, but are much smaller. They have more distinct tiger stripes, and the males are always sterile. They receive a growth inhibiting hormone from both parents, so they are much smaller than a tiger or a lion. They sound similar to a liger, which sounds sort of similar to both tigers and lions.
Hybrids of hybrids
Sometimes the females of both hybrid species (ligers and tigons) are not sterile, meaning they can reproduce. Usually, this is 50% of the time. These females are bred back to either a lion or a tiger to create another hybrid species. They are explained below, and also there is a link to TCWR’s newsletter that shows the picture of the hybridization linages.
Ligers: ti-liger= liger mother and tiger father li-liger= liger mother and lion father
Tigons: ti-tigon tigon mother and tiger father li-tigon, tigon mother lion father
Education: If more of the general public understood the problems and health issues that hybridizing lions and tigers causes, TCWR hopes that they would not exist. Those who visit places that breed or exhibit ligers or tigons, or any hybrid big cat species for that matter, is contributing to the problem and abuse of big cats in captivity. Public awareness and stricter guidelines on breeding big cats in captivity will help protect them for the future.
To protect these animals for the future, do not support facilities that breed hybrid animals such as ligers etc. or use them for entertainment. It is our job as humans to protect animals for the future, and allowing for the hybridization of vulnerable and endangered species is not helping their conservation, rather hurting the species altogether. These animals are not “cool” or “interesting”, they are a result of the exploitation of big cats in captivity for profit, and only exist due to the greed of their exploiter.