A hybrid tiger refers to one that has been crossbred with another species of wild cat, such as a lion or leopard. This is not a natural phenomenon and, according to current information, has only ever occurred with the help of human intervention or by accident due to close proximity in a zoo or park.
The trend of hybridisation began during the 1800’s, when circuses and zoos displayed “freaks of nature” – both human and animal. In order to add intrigue to their collection, they crossbred (or attempted to, in some cases) a number of different species; which resulted in a motley crew of animals to entertain the masses. Wild cats were relatively successfully interbred, making them particularly vulnerable to the trend.
In order to maintain the integrity of the wild cats’ species, hybridisation is not encouraged. For this reason, different species are usually kept separate when in zoos or parks. From recent experience, the male hybrid is sterile, while the female can usually reproduce.
The most common hybridisation is between the lion and the tiger. These are called ligers (the combination of a lion and a tigress) or tigons (the combination between a lioness and a tiger). The base colour of the fur generally depends much on the darkness of the tiger parent’s fur. Thus, when white tigers are bred with a lion, the liger or tigon is very light in colour.
Both of these hybrids will display characteristics of each of their parents, so there is no specific classification that can be applied to the way that they look. They will generally have tiger’s stripes on their backs and hindquarters and spots, even very light ones, on their belly. Pure-bred lion adults do not have distinctive spots, although they do pass these onto their hybrid young.
This is one of the more common combinations of big cat hybrids that occur in captivity by accident. Generally, the male ligers will have a short mane, which is far more conservative than that of a male lion. The liger is usually much larger than either of its parents. In fact, hybridisation seems to be responsible for a significant proportion of gigantism. An adult liger can weigh double that of the hefty Siberian Tiger (equivalent to about half a ton). As such, it is the biggest of all wild cat combinations. Ligers are far more common than tigons.
Unlike ligers, tigons are actually predisposed to being very small, being smaller than either of their parents or a similar size to their mother. This is as a result of inheriting a growth-inhibiting hormone. They are far rarer than ligers.
If a hybrid is born from two wild animals, it is deemed to be wild. However, if only one of its parents is domesticated, then it too is considered to be domesticated.
In general, hybrids enjoy the same sort of life expectancy than that of purebreds; that is, between 15 and 20 years in captivity.