The cat family of animals seems to have the ability to form many hybrids. Although there are very many involving the smaller cats, this article is about hybrids between three of the different species of Big Cats.
When two species of animal are crossed there is a naming convention. The first part of the name is from the species the male came from while the second part is from the female’s species. There are special cases where there is a common name for the hybrid. For example if a male Donkey is crossed with a female horse, their baby is called a Mule, not a Dorse. If the male is a Horse, their baby is called a Hinny, not a Honkey.
Ligers and Tigons
If a male Lion is crossed with a female Tiger, their babies are called Ligers, while if the male is a Tiger, their babies are Tigons. There are often several ways of forming a reasonable sounding name, so a Tiger Lion hybrid could be called a Tigon, a Tiglon or a Tilion. The most common of Lion Tiger crosses is the Liger. These have been produced for a long time. One was even given to Queen Victoria in the nineteenth century. These animals tend to be bigger than either parent. Apparently they get a growth gene from their Lion father, and their Tiger mother does not provide them with growth inhibition. With a Tigon, the male Tiger does not provide a growth gene, but the female Lion does inhibit the growth, so Tigons are often smaller than either parent.
With most of the Big Cat hybrids, all the male hybrids are infertile but some of the females can have babies, and can be back crossed to either parent species, but their male babies will still be infertile.
Although many Big Cat hybrids have been produced in captivity, in most cases they do not normally occur in the wild. However, there is at least one combination that has been reported many times, and even has a common name in India,
In India, and other places, Leopards and Tigers occur together. Both species are mostly solitary. The males and females meet for mating. It must happen sometimes that a large male Leopard meets a female Tiger that is ready to mate. In Indian folk lore this does happen, although the reported Hybrids might just be large Leopards with unusual coat patterns.