Tigon Redux

A couple of ligersBack in September Brian Thomas wrote an article about interbreeding in the cat family, specifically crosses between tigers and lions. As I said at the time:

You have probably heard of ligers: tiger/lion crosses, where the lion is the female parent. Tigons, or tiglons, are the opposite – the tiger is the female.

According to Brian, this interbreeding shows that cats form a single baramin (and that baramins actually exist), capable of reproducing “after their kind.” Curiously, he never explained why he was bringing up the subject then – the news he described as “recent” was from March. A week later, however, Jeff Tomkins wrote his own take (commentary) mentioning some more recent news that actually broke a couple of days after Thomas’ article.

As often happens, for this month’s Acts & Facts Brian rewrote his September article. Aside from an update to mention the more recent news there are a few other things that make this worth covering. He opens:

A lioness at Yancheng Safari Park of Changzhou City in China gave birth last December to twin tigons. Unfortunately, one of them died soon after birth. Tigons are the rare products of tiger fathers and lioness mothers. Ligers come from lion sires and tigress mothers.

While many species can interbreed to a degree, it is often the case that the hybrids are inviable or sterile, or that descendents of the hybrids will be sterile. While I can’t say for sure, it’s certainly possible that the death of one of the twins here was related to this.

More recently, a female liger and African lion father produced perhaps the world’s first “liliger,” born at the Novosibirsk Zoo in Siberia. The liger mother had trouble producing enough milk, but fortunately a common housecat at the zoo “adopted” and nursed the tiny liliger, named Kiara. Kiara has a lion’s golden coat with some tiger stripes on her head.

This is the updated news. Again I can’t say for sure, but it’s also possible that the milk trouble might be caused by hybridisation – if a housecat could nurse Kiara then it is unlikely that the liliger was demanding more milk, and more so that the mother was unable to provide it for some other reason. This situation is analogous to how you can say that global warming will increase the frequency of storms, but cannot necessarily tie a specific storm to climate change because they happen anyway.

A flaw in the reasoning of Thomas’ original article was that while he could demonstrate interbreeding within the big-cat genus Panthera, such as the lion-tiger crosses, and within the genus Felis, which includes housecats, he could not cross the gap between the two. This time he thinks he can:

In short, lions and tigers can interbreed because they both descended from an ancestral cat family. Of course, not all cat varieties can interbreed directly like lions and tigers, but scientists place cats on a continuum of interbreeding varieties. For example, house cats can interbreed with small wildcats. They descended from the African wildcat, bred long ago perhaps near Egypt. Tigers can interbreed with leopards, leopards and pumas have interbred, pumas have interbred with members of the ocelot lineage, and certain ocelots are compatible with some domestic cats. All of this breeding potential clearly shows that differently named cats are simply varieties within the same basic cat kind.

The ocelot, Thomas’ bridge, is a species (Leopardus pardalis) of cat native to South and Central America. It is not only in a different genus to both the housecats and the tigers, but in a whole different subfamily. (Panthera and Felis are also in separate subfamilies, while cats as a whole are united in the family felidae.) I would be interested to know what makes Mr Thomas think they can interbreed with both housecats and pumas (along with some of the other crosses). Unfortunately, this is the reference he uses to back it up:

Thanks to Elian Koek of the Netherlands for helpful input.

Ok, who is Elian Koek, and where did they get their information from? We may never know.

There’s not a lot else in here that’s new, aside from a claim that a study of the genetics of coat patterns shows “genetic design.” And with that, I think it’s about time to wrap up this month’s Acts & Facts issue. Stay tuned for that post.

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One thought on “Tigon Redux

  1. As a breeding expert who accomplished something novel, you’d think Elian Koek would be on the web somewhere… but there seems to be no trace whatsoever. Bizarre, to say the least.

    Or maybe it’s all made up. Fucking ICR liars…

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