Ligers are the resultant offspring of a mating between a female tiger and a male lion. They are usually stocky lion-like creatures with pale tawny fur and faint tiger stripes. Their opposite number, the result of a mating between a male tiger and female lion has the brighter more orange tiger fur, but with the same muted stripes and spots as a liger does. Here are some interesting facts about ligers:
10. They are really, really rare
There is only about one hundred of these exotic creatures in the world. America has the most with a population of thirty, China follows with around twenty and the remaining fifty are elsewhere in the world, mainly in zoos and nature reserves.
9. They Are Not Natural!
Lions come from Africa and tigers come from India, so obviously there is an extremely low likelihood of the two species ever meeting up. However, the truth is a little more complicated by that, as you will see with the next point.
8. Really, Really Not Natural!
In fact, there is such an animal as the Indian lion, and they do co-exist with tigers in one small region of India, the Gir Forest. But there are no cases ever recorded of lions and tigers mating in the wild: it is something that only happens when the animals have no natural mates – such as a single lion and single tiger both being in captivity at the same zoo or reserve, or when keepers deliberately breed them.
7. Contrary to Rumour: They are Fertile
Many hybrid animals are infertile: for example, mules and hinnies which are horse/ donkey crosses tend to be mostly infertile, with only very few instances of hinnies (when the father is a horse, and the mother a donkey) being able to have babies of their own. This is not the case with either ligers or their counterparts, tigons, both of whom can produce offspring. There are some cases of ligers or tigons being bred with lions or tigers to produce such beasts as ‘litigons’ and so on. A lion-tigon mix has been produced fairly often, and the resulting offspring can be as large as a liger.
6. Tiger Moms Need a Midwife!
Despite the fact that tigers tend to be significantly larger than lions, a tiger mother will most likely need some kind of medical intervention when she is giving birth. This is because liger babies tend to be very large indeed, right from before birth. See points 5 and 3 for more on this.
5. Big Babies!
Ligers are born large and they grow quickly, attaining almost their full growth by the age of six, after which time it slows dramatically until they reach their full size. No one knows why this is the case as neither lions nor tigers develop in this manner.
4. He’s Got His Father’s Eyes…
Ligers in appearance – especially their fur colour and the shape of their heads and bodies – look much more like lions, albeit chunky fellows. They are also very sociable, which is, again, a very lion-like trait. They do, however, have a very tigerish love of the water and swimming, seeking out pools and ponds to sit and relax in.
3. They Are Big Big Cats
Ligers are the biggest of the big cats, the offspring being larger than either of their parents, something that very rarely happens in nature. There is not much difference in the sizes of males and females although the males do tend to be slightly larger. Ligers run from 10 foot to twelve foot long and weigh anywhere from 700 pounds to twelve hundred pounds*.
2. A Herculean Kitty
The largest liger officially recorded was a non-obese male named Hercules. This title means he is pretty much the largest big cat ever, at least in recent times. He weighed a hefty 922 pounds, stretched an impressive 3.3 metres and stood 1.25 metres high at the shoulder. This means he was longer than the average car, and could stand in front of you and lick your face (assuming normal average adult height). By comparison, a regular lioness would only be able to reach just above the belly button without jumping up…
*It must be pointed out that ligers tend to obesity and the weights in the upper end of the scale include the most overweight specimens. This is why Hercules takes the title over weightier liger – he was not at all overweight.
1. Big, But Not Slow!
Do not be tempted to think that these massive cuddly-looking cats are slouches when it comes to moving: they have been clocked running at up to fifty miles per hour, their bulk not slowing down their agility or speed on foot at all. Perhaps this is the reason that they tend to be overweight? Being confined in relatively small enclosures (as compared to immense reaches of wilderness) perhaps means that they do not have the range of movement or many chances to get up to their full speed to burn off some of their excesses?
Now you know some fascinating facts about ligers, you will know what to look for should you next visit a nature park or zoo that is home to one of these unusual but still gorgeous massive felines.