(LIGERS) There’s no question that the photograph of the gigantic creature Hercules and adorable cub Aries is spectacular. But what are we to make of the spectacle? While the world watches tigers rapidly disappear, certain ‘wildlife reserves’ (in this case, we’re insinuating ‘amusement park’) breed ligers, a combination of tiger and lion.
Aries is the third litter bred from this park. Liger males, because they are a hybrid offspring, are sterile and usually have shortened life spans in addition to a high rate of birth defects. Due to their size, the tigress mother can only deliver a liger by Ceasarian section and there are numerous reports of mothers rejecting her hybrid cubs all together. (See a video of a dog nursing rejected liger cubs here.)
Wouldn’t the resources used to create these sterile cross-bred animals with health issues be better spent on programs that promote actual tiger rehabilitation? It may not be lucrative in a pay-per-admission sense, but the cost of losing an entire species is incalculable in every way that matters. What do you think? — Global Animal
Paw Nation, Jennipher Walters
The Myrtle Beach Safari wildlife reserve in South Carolina recently announced the birth of a baby liger, the cross between a male lion and a tigress. The adorable 4-week-old Aries is pictured here peeking out from behind his 8-year-old big brother, Hercules.
Aries may look small now, but he is expected to gain almost one pound a day, which will most likely put him at 365 pounds by his first birthday, Dr. Bhagavan Antle, director of The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S.), told the (U.K.) Daily Mail.
Aries’s older brother weighs in at a whopping 900 pounds, and stands almost six feet tall. Talk about a big kitty!
The coupling of a lion and a tiger is uncommon, especially in the wild. Lions are found mostly in Africa, while tigers live in Asia, and both species are extremely territorial. However, Aries and Hercules are a byproduct of T.I.G.E.R.S., which was established to provide funding to international wildlife conservation programs, along with education and field research, according to its website.
While ligers are bigger than both lions and tigers, they also have lighter stripes than tigers and a characteristic heart-shaped head without much of a mane like a lion would have. Hercules’s head — and soon Aries, who they expect to be as large if not larger than his older brother — is 2 feet and 3 inches across, and his 2-inch claws are the same size as a velociraptor dinosaur, according to the Daily Mail.
Ligers are distinct from tigons, the hybrid of a tiger father and lioness mother. There are even litigons, the hybrid of a male lion and a female tigon.
The merging of the two species has brought about some concern as ligers can have special health issues, according to National Geographic. While very few ligers have been bred and studied, in many cases the tiger mother requires a C-section due to the large size of the liger cub, and many die shortly after birth. Additionally, because of their size and growth, ligers may suffer from genetic abnormalities, neurological defects, cancer and arthritis, along with shorter life spans than their parents.
Despite a liger’s size and potential health risks, trainer Moksha Bybee told the Daily Mail that they inherit positive traits from each parent, such as the tiger’s fondness of water and the lion’s love of play.
“The great thing about ligers is they have this extreme social ability they get from their lion fathers. They enjoy the social life and enjoy touching and interactive play,” Bybee says.