Four of the five species of the big cats (the Panthera genus – lion, tiger, leopard, jaguar and snow leopard), the exception being the snow leopard can hybridize with each other to produce numerous hybrids. In fact, breeding of two different pantheras has been banned in many zoos and animal sanctuaries due to no conservation value of the hybrid, and the risk it poses on the mother that gives birth to it. For instance, the liger’s increased growth rate and enormous size can cause the tigress giving birth to have a difficult delivery, endangering both the mother and her liger cubs, which may be born prematurely or require a Caesarian. Common problems in cubs that survive are neurological disorders, obesity, genetic defects, and a shortened lifespan; though a few have reportedly made it to their twenties, many don’t survive past the age of seven. Moreover, male ligers have lowered testosterone levels and sperm counts, rendering them infertile while females, though capable of reproducing with either a lion or a tiger, often give birth to sickly cubs that don’t survive.
However, hybrids do occur by accident in captivity.
Most hybrids would not survive in the wild due to the males being infertile, but a few (such as the Leopon – leopard father, lion mother) are fertile and have a chance of survival in the wild.
Here are the list of possible hybrid big cats (and some other smaller felines).
Father: Lion, Mother: Tiger
Tawny, golden and white forms. The largest of all known extant felines.
Ligers enjoy swimming, which is a characteristic of tigers, and are very sociable like lions. Ligers (and tigons) exist only in captivity because the habitats of the parental species do not overlap in the wild. Historically, when the Asiatic Lion was prolific, the territories of lions and tigers did overlap and there are legends of ligers existing in the wild.
Father: Tiger, Mother: Lion
Alternative names: tion, tigron, tiglon
Tawny, golden and white forms. A tigon is often smaller than either a lion or tiger though some have attained or exceeded the size of the smaller parent.
Father: Lion, Mother: Liger
Father: Lion, Mother: Tigon
Father: Tiger, Mother: Liger
Alternative name: Tig-liger
Father: Tiger, Mother: Tigon
Alternative name: Tig-tigon
Father: Jaguar, Mother: Leopard
Alternative name: Jagleop
Chicago, America. Spots and rosettes.
Father: Lion, Mother: Jagulep (Jagleop)
Alternative name: Lijagleop
Chicago, America. Later exhibited as the Congolese Spotted Lion.
Father: Tiger, Mother: Leopard
Alternative name: Tipard
In 1900, Carl Hagenbeck crossed a female leopard with a Bengal tiger. The stillborn offspring had a mixture of spots, rosettes and stripes. Henry Scherren wrote, “A male tiger from Penang served two female Indian leopards, and twice with success. Details are not given and the story concludes somewhat lamely. ‘The leopardess dropped her cubs prematurely, the embryos were in the first stage of development and were scarcely as big as young mice.’ Of the second leopardess there is no mention.”
According to a report in a 1978 edition of the British tabloid paper “Sun”, a “pantig” (panther-tiger hybrid) was born at Southam Zoo, a private zoo located on Warwickshire farm (Southam is between Royal Leamington Spa and Daventry). The purported pantig was the result of a mating between a male black leopard and a tigress and was fostered by a Dachshund. The cub’s background colour was the typical yellow-brown shade of normal leopards. Unlike earlier attempts at captive-breeding leopard-tiger hybrids, this purported hybrid evidently survived into adulthood. Eventually, the Southam Zoo pantig was sold to an American zoo. Although this account is currently not scientifically authenticated, it indicates that the leopard’s recessive melanism gene is also recessive to the tiger’s normal tawny color.
Father: Puma, Mother: Leopard
In the late 1890s/early 1900s, two hybrids were born in Chicago, USA, followed 2 years later by three sets of twin cubs born at a zoo in Hamburg, Germany from a puma father and leopard mother. Carl Hagenbeck apparently bred several litters of puma x leopard hybrids in 1898 at the suggestion of a menagerie owner in Britain; this was possibly Lord Rothschild (as one of the hybrids is preserved in his museum) who may have heard of the two hybrid cubs bred in Chicago in 1896 and suggested Hagenbeck reproduced the pairing.
Father: Leopard, Mother: Lion
Alternative name: Lepon
The head of the animal is similar to that of a lion, while the rest of the body carries similarities to leopards. Leopons are very rare, but there are a few in Japanese zoos and also bred in Italy.
Father: Lion, Mother: Leopard
Alternative name: Lipard
Leopard x lioness seems more likely pairing. Liard hybrid is unconfirmed. Would be similar to Leopon.
Father: Caracal, Mother: Serval
No precise parent details for caraval.
Father: Serval, Mother: Caracal
Los Angeles, America. Accidental one-off; were sold as pets.