Ligers’ breeding at Hainan Tropical Wildlife and Botanical Garden
The offspring of a female tiger and a male lion, and larger than both parents, ligers are the product of human intervention as the two animals never meet in the wild.
But Hainan Tropical Wildlife and Botanical Garden in the island province’s capital of Haikou says it has successfully bred 13 of the animals. Ligers are believed to be the largest of the cat family.
Reports of liger breeding date back to the 1800s, but the practice is frowned upon in some countries – especially in Taiwan where the crossbreeding of protected species is illegal.
There are barely 3,500 tigers left in the wild, according to a World Bank report released earlier this year. It has urged international action to help protect the animal in 2010, the Chinese Zodiac year of the tiger.
Some animal rights activists argue that ligers suffer from defects as a result of the cross-breeding and are little help in preserving an already endangered species.
"Cross-bred animals can’t usually reproduce and they can have many kinds of disease. Since they are the combination of different species, their genes can oppress the development of normal genes, this is very bad for the animals and definitely not the right approach towards conserving a species," said the Director of the Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan, Wu Hung.
The last case of liger cubs in Taiwan earlier this year earned the breeder a hefty US$1500 fine.
But Hainan’s breeders are undeterred and the six-month-old male liger cub is the pride of the zoo.
Hand reared from birth, zoo manager, He Zailin, said the cub is given free range in the staff quarters.
The zoo claims to hold the world record in the number of ligers born to one mother, twelve altogether, according to state news agency Xinhua.
Haikou’s zoo is not alone, several other mainland Chinese zoo’s have also tried to breed ligers but with less success, according to Chinese media reports.
"A lot of zoos are trying to breed, but the success rate is very low. A lot are not successful – only one liger in every hundred thousand fertilisations will survive," he said.
The zoo says it has also managed to breed tiglons with a female lion and a male tiger.
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