In the wild, tigers roaming the savannahs of Tanzania and lions stalking prey in the jungles of Uganda wouldn't cross paths. Zoos and conservations, though, provide the opportunity to mingle. The lovechildren of lion fathers, Panthera leo, and tiger mothers, Panthera tigris, are called ligers. Ligers sport both the golden fur of the lion and tiger stripes down the length of their backs. Unlike water-shy lions, they share the tiger’s love for getting wet, lounging for hours at a time in shallow water. Tigers are solitary animals and lions are social, so a liger’s personality depends on which cats they spend their time with—they get along easily with both species.
Ligers are also fertile, and very big. Male lions pass on genes that encourage their cubs’ growth, while female lions pass on genes that slow it down. Tigers don’t pass on these types of genes, so ligers can grow to twice the size of their parents. The largest liger in the world, Hercules, weighs 922 pounds.
All known ligers come from accidental cross-breeding in captivity—although it’s possible that in the past crossbreeding occurred in the wild, says Bhagavan Antle, director of The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (TIGERS) in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Hercules’s keeper. “Historically, there were vast areas where they had the opportunity to breed, so there must have been wild ligers,” Antle says. Other Panthera cats, such as jaguars and leopards, have bred with one another both in the wild and in captivity.