Introduction to Liger

Liger animal can be described as a hybrid animal. Hybrid is a term used to define animals that share parents from two different species, in the case of liger the parent belongs to lion and tiger species. Liger is the progeny of a male lion and a female tiger. This inter-species breeding leads to the production of the animal called a liger. The article focuses on the general description of the liger, the taxonomical classification, breeding, morphological features, fertility. The article also focuses on the zoo policy of the liger animal.


What is Liger?

Liger animals are the progeny produced by the mating of two different species, the tiger is the offspring of a male lion and a female tiger. Although both the parents belong to the same family of feline cats, they belong to different species, the lion belongs to the species called Panthera leo while the female tiger belongs to the species called Panthera tigris. The liger animals while sharing parents in two different species but belong to neither of them. Interspecies breeding is not a new concept to humankind, humans have always performed in vivo or in vitro hybridization of plants and animals for commercial purposes, but the hybrid liger has its own pros and cons. One of the major problems with this creature is their survival in wild. The liger animal is man-made species. The interspecies breeding between tiger and lions do not exist naturally in nature. The tiger and lion though belong to the feline family but does not co-exist in nature, they have a different habitat, social behaviour, and even social hierarchy, it is sad but needless to say is true that the only purpose of creation of this species of feline animal that is liger is for entertainment purpose of human society.

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Taxonomical Classification of Liger Animal

Since the liger is a hybrid animal it is very important to understand the taxonomical classification of the animal for the survival of the animal. The taxonomical; classification also allows us to develop a better understanding of the genetics, evolutionary relationship, and behavioural psychology of the animal. The liger animal can be classified as follows,


The liger belongs to the kingdom called Animalia, similar to their parent species liger are also classified under the phylum Chordata, the phylum is further classified into classes. The liger belongs to the class called Mammalia, both the parent of the liger also belongs to this class, the important characteristic feature of this class is the mode of fertilization and reproduction, the class follows mostly internal fertilization and reproduction of young ones. It is interesting to note that the organism unlike many hybrids is fertile, that is they can reproduce. Infertility or sterility is one of the many setbacks of the hybrid species due to which the survival of hybrid in nature is highly unlikely, but since ligers are classified as mammals and are fertile, they follow all the general rules of fertilization, mating, and reproduction.


The animal is further classified as Carnivora, the Carnivora is classified as an order under taxonomical classification. The order is further classified into the family, the liger belongs to the Felidae family, this family consists of all the feline members of the animal kingdom. The family can be divided into subfamily, the liger belongs to the subfamily called Pantherinae. The last classification of the animal is at the level of genus, genus then further classifies into the species, the genus of the liger is Panthera. Panthera contains all the wild cats, this contains both the parent species of the liger. 


Since the liger animals are hybrids they are not classified into either of their parent species. The species can be defined as a group of animals that can live independently in a given habitat and can breed within the group are termed as species. Since ligers can not survive in wild they are not classified as species. It is important to note that ligers can reproduce but only in a protected environment. The scientific notation used to describe the Liger animal is P. leo♂ × P. tigris♀. This representation is also used as a scientific name, the P. denotes the genus Panthera, and Leo and Tigris are the species name of lion and tiger respectively.


History and Ethical Issues Associated with a Liger

It is a well-understood fact described in the article that liger animals are not naturally found are only bred in captivity.  The history of breeding of the tiger and lions to produce liger dates back to time around the late 1700s. The ligers are were inbred within captivity in 1824 as documented by G. B. Whittaker. In 1935, four ligers from two litters were bred in the Zoological Gardens of Bloemfontein, South Africa. There were three ligers that were bred in the captivity, two of them were female and males, they lived about 1953. They weigh about 340 kg (750 lb) and the height of the animals can range from foot and a half that is about 45 cm. One of the major historical features of liger has been recorded by King William IV and to his successor Queen Victoria in 1837, the liger cubs were presented as a gift for the members of the royal family. 


Ethical Issue

Since ligers are bred in captivity many animal right activist see it as an unethical thing, as they can not live independently. The liger is also prone to various genetic defects due to the interspecies genetic variation of the parents. The ligers undergo exceptional growth this can be attributed to the lack of growth regulator genes in the progeny. The biggest liger can range twice the size of the parent. There are no wild ligers this results in a lifetime of captivity. Another point put forward by the animal rights organization is the susceptibility of the animals towards obesity, moreover, ligers are always subject to stress on internal organs. 


An important argument against the ethical nature of breeding is that the organism is placed in the zoo and requires large care and resources for maintaining its survival, this leads to lower allocation of the resources toward the vulnerable animals that are naturally present. This problem of resource allocation is widely debated but holds true when considered ther amount of resource and human expertise required for the survival of the species. Another argument is that it is highly immoral to breed an animal just for the sake of entertainment as in the case of ligers.


Morphology of Liger

The liger animal is larger than both of the parent species. The biggest liger ever bred is named Hercules. The liger was documented to weigh around 418kg and the height was documented as 10 feet tall. Hercules holds the Guinness world record for being the largest liger. An average sized liger can weigh up to 400 kg that is about 900 pounds and the height can range up to 10.8 feet that are 3.3 meters. As mentioned earlier ligers are susceptible to excessive growth and obesity due to the lack of growth regulator genes, some of the liger animals have reported weighing around 1000 kgs which when converted is 1 metric ton.


The ligers have the characteristic stripes inherited from the tiger, they are seen to have light-coloured stripes. The liger animals are seen to have countershading, this is common in tigers. The countershading helps as a camouflage technique for the tigers. As reported in liger the underp[arts are pale in nature. 


There are some white ligers reported. White ligers are produced when a white lion and a female tiger are bred together. The white ligers are rather rare as compared to the normal ligers, it also important to note that contrary to the name the white ligers are not completely white but are very pale in colour.in theory, it is not impossible to breed a white liger but they are rarely successfully bred. The first known white ligers were born in December 2013 at Myrtle Beach Safari in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.


Survival of the Ligers in Wild

Ligers are bred in captivity from the parent belonging to different species, one of the main questions that arise is why can’t ligers live in wild? It is not new for hybrids to survive in the wild. There are many examples of hybrids that live and thrive in their natural habitat, examples such hybrid animals include blue-fin whale hybrids, grizzly-polar bear hybrids, and Galapagos marine-land iguana hybrids. But this is not the case with ligers or white ligers. The reason behind this is that the parent species of the liger 9lion and tiger) do not share their habitat. Not only they are geographically distant but they vary greatly in social behaviour, mating behaviour, hunting techniques. Since ligers have the traits of both they do not have the unique skill set required for surviving in the wild. Apart from the geographical distance separating the two species and serving as a barrier, there are prezygotic reproductive isolating mechanisms (RIMs), such as differences in behaviour, and nonbiological factors, such as differences in a range that prevent the formations of ligers.


Another argument of low survival or death of the liger and white liger is due to their huge size and obesity, it is often hypothesized by the animal experts that the ligers are incapable of hunting in the wild, due to the lack of skills of both the tiger and lion parents. There is to date no reported case of wild ligers has been found. Wild ligers are practically impossible to survive. The only place where the wild liger or liger can be found in the protected wildlife sanctuary and zoos.


Overall Health and Life Span

The health of ligers is always subjected to high risk. Due to interspecies breeding liger animals are predisposed to various genetic diseases, they also have a high rate of gene mutation. Even during birth, most of the liger die at parturition the main reason behind this is the large size of the cub. The female tiger’s body produces contraction and enzymes and various other components essential required for the development of tiger cub which is not sufficient for liger as half of the genetic component belongs to the other species. It is important to note that the lions and tigers genetically and evolutionary diverged from each other 7 million years ago, thus can not support the genetic requirement of each other.


Ligers are also reported to be ill from birth. There are various reports suggesting the case of multiple organ failure during birth, it also endangers the female tigers. Ligers are genetically predisposed to obesity, neurological deficits, sterility, cancer, and arthritis. The life span of liger animals ranges from 13 to 20 years in complete protection.


Ligers also have some behavioural issues as they can not completely interact with either of the parent species, the liger manifests the behavioural traits of both the lions and tigers thus hindering the social interaction with the parent species. It is a well known fact that both tigers and lions have some level of social interaction among their group, lack of this social interaction in ligers often results in various psychological problems.


Fertility

Ligers are considered fertile hybrids, but it is important to note that they can not reproduce in a natural environment without human intervention. Although the ligers are considered fertile they can not reproduce the reason behind this phenomenon can be explained by one of the most important principles of ecology named Haldane's rule. The rule describes that if in a population only one sex or gender is sterile the offspring is much likely to generate heterogametic. The male ligers are sterile. The female ligers are fertile, because of this reason ligers are not considered as species and can’t reproduce, and hence are subjected to live a life of isolation in captivity.


Types of Ligers

There are the following types of liger that are successfully bred, these include

  1. Maned ligers, 

  2. the Maneless Ligers, 

  3. the Tiger-lookalike ligers and 

  4. the white ligers.

The maned ligers have the characteristic fur surrounding the neck called mane, found in lions. The maneless lions do not have mane fur. In some rare cases, the tiger-like morphology might dominate creating the third type called tiger look alkie ligers. The white tigers as mentioned earlier are actually very pale-coloured tigers. All these ligers only differ in some features of their physical appearance. The biggest liger reported to date was the Tiger-lookalike ligers.  


Conclusion

The ligers are the animals that are bred in captivity and are the hybrids of lions and tigers. The biggest ligers can weigh up to 100 kgs. The largest ligers can reach a height up to 10 feet. The largest liger reported to date was Hercules. These inbred animals are subjected to many ethical issues, these are the animals that bred only for the purpose of entertainment and profit of humans. Ligers are subjected to live an isolated life because of their genetic makeup and unique traits, they can not reproduce and are not even considered species. In conclusion, breeding to produce ligers for individual profit is highly unethical, various animal right organization are working to change the situation of the ligers.

FAQs on Liger

Q.1. What is the Name of the Largest Liger?

Ans: The name of the biggest liger is Hercules, the liger was documented to weigh around 418kg and the height was documented as 10 feet tall.

Q.2. How Many Ligers are Present Worldwide?

Ans: There are about 100 ligers estimated to live across the globe. The liger count in the USA is 30, whereas the reported count of ligers in China is 20. There are still undocumented ligers that are bred in captivity to gain individual profit.

Q.3. Name of the Diseases Ligers are Susceptible to

Ans: The ligers are susceptible to neurological defects, cancer, obesity, and arthritis. There are also many reported cases of the death of liger during parturition (birth).

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