Ligers are the largest cats on Earth. They are more than 900 pounds (~408 kg) and 12 feet (~3.65 m) long, weighing almost 100 times more than house cats and almost twice as much as either Panthera tigris (tiger) or Panthera leo (lion).
The liger, the largest of all known extant felines, is a hybrid cross between a male lion and a female tiger.
Hercules, the largest non-obese liger who lives at the Myrtle Beach Safari wildlife preserve in South Carolina, is the World’s largest living cat, according to the 2014 Guinness Book of World Records. He weighs 922 pounds (418.2 kg), is 131 inches (332.74 cm) long, and measures 49 inches (124.46 cm) tall at the shoulder.
He was born among a litter of four in November 2001 at the preserve and named after the mythological character. Hercules, who consumes 20 to 25 pounds of meat daily and has favorite logs he uses to sharpen his claws, also has traveled coast to coast to promote wildlife conservation.
Related: Hybrid big cats
Hercules may be cute, but breeding of ligers has been banned in many zoos and animal sanctuaries due to no conservation value of the hybrid, and the risk it poses on the tigress that gives birth to it. Keeping the two species separate has been standard procedure. However, ligers do occur by accident in captivity.
A liger looks like a giant lion with muted stripes but like thier tiger ancestors. Ligers enjoy swimming, which is a characteristic of tigers, and are very sociable like lions. They 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. Notably, ligers typically grow larger than either parent species, unlike tigons which tend to be about as large as a female tiger and is the cross between a male tiger and a lioness.
The fertility of hybrid big cat females is well documented across a number of different hybrids. This is in accordance with Haldane’s rule: in hybrids of animals whose sex is determined by sex chromosomes, if one sex is absent, rare or sterile, it is the heterogametic sex (the one with two different sex chromosomes e.g. X and Y).
According to Wild Cats of the World (1975) by C. A. W. Guggisberg, ligers and tigons were long thought to be sterile: in 1943, a fifteen-year-old hybrid between a lion and an ‘Island’ tiger was successfully mated with a lion at the Munich Hellabrunn Zoo. The female cub, though of delicate health, was raised to adulthood.
In September 2012, the Russian Novosibirsk Zoo announced the birth of a “liliger”, which is the offspring of a liger mother and a lion father. The cub was named Kiara. In 2013 the same pair of an African lion and a female liger produced three more female cubs.