It’s the king of all big cats, but only in terms of size. It often outgrows the lion and the tiger. It’s the liger: the product of a male lion and a female tiger (tigress).
The largest on record, a liger in America called Hercules, weighs more than 400 kilograms – about the mass of seven men! Apart from being the heaviest, Hercules also holds the record for the longest cat, the tallest cat and probably, the greatest meat consumer.
And the liger’s weight is no barrier to its movement. It can jump and run just as fast as other big cats and can clock 60 km per hour for a few seconds.
Maybe it’s a good thing that the liger does not arise naturally in the wild. (Who wants to meet a carnivorous cat that is bigger, stronger, heavier and just as fast as a tiger or lion?) The natural habitats of lions and tigers do not overlap, so they’re not likely to meet and mate in the wild, and give birth to a liger.
The lion is predominantly in Africa. Presently, only a very tiny population of the Asian lion is believed to be hiding somewhere in India.
The tiger’s habitat on the other hand, is distributed across Asia, and India can boast quite a population of them. But not Africa.
So the liger is only bred in captivity, mostly for zoos.
Just like tigers, ligers have some stripes, though they are light in colour and not as dark as a tiger’s, and they also like to swim. And just like lions, some ligers have the characteristic big head with a lot of hair.
Despite the usual fascination with their size, many conservationists would rather not have the liger in existence because of the genetic defects that usually result from artificially making such animal hybrids. For the liger, it seems to have an unusual growth rate, and grows until its organs come under pressure from the size of the animal. Ligers also often have shorter life spans than their parents and cubs have higher mortality. There is also the risk of complications like cancer and arthritis in ligers.
Some conservationists are more concerned with the ethics of artificially breeding the liger. At the end of the day, the liger is just an experiment for the purpose of making money, and will spend all its life in captivity, making friends with just a handful of humans and never being released into its natural habitat.
Oh wait! The liger is not natural. The liger has no natural habitat. How would you feel without a heritage? How would you feel if you had some chimpanzee characteristics, just because somebody wanted to experiment and see what a human-chimpanzee hybrid looks like?