{ligers} Siberian Tiger Park in Harbin, China

I was never really truly sure that ligers were real- it seemed like the kind of thing that gullible me would believe in and then later learn I had been hoodwinked and feel stupid for believing Napoleon Dynamite and stuff. Well, when I visited a Siberian Tiger preserve and breeding center up in NE China, where they also have lions. And I SAW a supercute and cuddly-looking-but-could-kill-me-instantly liger in the flesh, sleeping in his enclosure!

A liger is conceived when a male lion mates with a female tiger (tigress)- which is kind of weird and pretty uncommon, since in the wild, tigers and lions don’t have overlapping habitats. But if tigers and lions are raised in captivity together, they might get the idea to mate across species. So perhaps more exciting than seeing the liger itself was the chance to see a liger being conceived- as in, a lion in flagrante with a Siberian tiger! And the proof is in the pudding. Kids, avert your eyes. It’s kinda freaky.

Exciting, eh? The Chinese graciously describe this cross-species canoodling as “Affinity between Lion and Tiger.”

Ligers are infertile- like mules- and very difficult to conceive successfully. They estimate that only 0.1% of couplings result in a successful liger birth, and that there are only around 10 ligers in the whole world! Wow. Ligers  are actually the largest cats in the world, whereas Siberian tigers are the largest “pure” cats. Ergo, the coupling between an African lion and a Siberian tiger is going to make a really big liger. And FYI, if a male tiger mates with a female lion, it’s called a tigon.

So, to sum up, Napoleon Dynamite pretty much had it right when he said, “It’s pretty much my favorite animal. It’s like a lion and a tiger mixed… bred for its skills in magic. ” I totally agree. Ligers are cool.

Other highlights of the Siberian Tiger preserve: seeing super big tigers super up close… they drive you out to the big open fields where a bunch of tigers live and breed. I will admit I enjoyed the experience with some trepidation, mostly due to the relatively recent Siberian tiger tragedy at the San Francisco Zoo. Ai, Tatiana!

The tigers seem nonplussed by the presence of the ancient converted school bus (that was so clearly about to break down and leave us stranded with no way to defend ourselves against a gang of enormous bloodthirsty wild animals whose incisors are as long as my arm.)

At one point a guy in a caged-in car drove out and started throwing live chickens out of the car. The tigers clearly know what’s up with this chicken-delivery truck. One jumped on top and grabbed the chicken.

This guy got the 2nd chicken. Victory! He is kind of giving me the evil eye, don’t you think?

It’s a little bit sad to see the chickens- probably not realizing their imminent fate is to be tiger food.

There were many many tigers in the center, and some other cats. It seemed a little unfair to the African cats to be living in such a cold environment and the lionesses all had to huddle for warmth!

All around a super fun and interesting event! Unfortunately, it’s unclear what the scientific and environmental quality of the tiger breeding plan is, long-term, for the park. There have been reports that when the park has re-released these tigers into the wild, it has not worked out terribly well. It’s unclear if that’s due to the shrinking natural environment or to an inadequate preparatory experience for the tigers that are in captivity. My guess is a combination of those 2 factors and more. Regardless, it is thrilling to experience these beautiful and powerful creatures at such close range.

For more info on the Harbin Siberian Tiger park, check this link.

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1 Response

  1. It is interesting that if father is a lion and mother is a tiger, then the offspring are called “Liger”, and offspring’s are giants as these are above. But if father is tiger and mother lioness, then the offspring are called “Tal”, and they are dwarfs.