Here’s a cat you wouldn’t like curled up on your lap - it’s called a Liger, and is the biggest cat on Earth. I have never seen one, but I know roughly 100 exist. It’s an artificially inseminated cross between a male lion and a female tiger. They wouldn’t even co-exist together in the wild as they come from different continents. It’s like a creature from a horror story, a massive cat of around 454kg standing some 3.6m tall on their hind legs, having larger, thicker bones and longer teeth than both parents. The liger is a large golden-coloured cat with spots on the forehead, pale striping along the back, and in some males, a primitive mane. Female lions possess the gene that limits growth while in tigers it is the male; and with ligers not receiving this gene from either parent, they suffer from gigantism, massively outgrowing both parents.

Fully grown, the liger will be enormous – currently the record for the biggest non-obese liger is approximately 408 kg, though others have weighed in at 544 kg and even 726 kg. Height-wise, an adult is typically about 1.3m tall at the shoulder and 1.8m tall at the tips of the ears when standing. To sustain such a large body, the liger requires an average of 11.4 kg of meat per day—more than double the diet of a typical lion or tiger in captivity.

Birthing difficulties

Their size can cause the mother tigress birthing difficulties, endangering both her and the cubs, which may be born prematurely or require a Caesarian, and cubs that survive may suffer neurological disorders, obesity, genetic defects, and a shortened lifespan – some make it to their twenties, but many don’t survive past the age of seven. Male 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. In short, these hybrid animals are infertile because they don't have viable sex cells, meaning they can't produce liger sperm or eggs, the chromosomes from their different species’ parents don't match up. Despite their gigantic size and the fact that their parents are two of the planet's most ferocious predators, it apparently has a relatively gentle and docile nature, particularly with their handlers.

As they grow, they may also experience social problems, inheriting habits and communication methods from both parent species. Their ‘language’ is a mix: roaring sounds like a lion, but they can make a sound known as a chuff—a happy greeting noise that is unique to the tiger.


These animals are seemingly bred for their curiosity value, or for the purpose of being used in the entertainment industry, and have no reason to be conserved. The cost of their massive diet is way beyond normal zoo expenses when their resources should be focused on conservation; in fact, accredited zoos—which breed animals in accordance with the Species Survival Plan designed to promote the conservation of specific species and subspecies—do not promote the breeding of ligers at all, as they are an unnatural phenomenon found only in captivity. Nevertheless, the imposing size and exotic allure of the liger makes them a real crowd-pleaser, an animal oddity that attracts hundreds of visitors—and money—to liger-holding facilities each year, resulting in continued breeding plans. Ligers wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild because they don’t come from the wild. Even if they could survive, they wouldn’t be very good at propagating and passing on their genes. Hybrids aren't species.

At present, some 30 ligers exist in the US (and even fewer tigons, a cross between male tigers and female lions). In some countries, such as Taiwan, it is actually illegal to breed hybrids of protected animals, as it is considered a waste of genetic resources and—perhaps more importantly—hybrid animals may not be offered the same protection as their parent species.

How do you feel about crossbreeding? It happens a lot, but usually within species – many dogs are crossbreeds, mules are a crossbreed, even cattle can be successfully crossbred. But tigers and lions? Just seems so wrong to me.


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan