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The Tale of the Liger

Sean M. Poole

Published: June 26, 2015

"By the time of the Roman Empire, Asiatic lions had been hunted to near extinction. Today, the only wild population of Asiatic lions on Earth, approximately two hundred fifty of them, lives in India's Gir forest.

But once upon a time, a long, long time ago, outside the ancient city of Singapore, which was called the City of Lions, there were myths told of giant brown cat-like beasts, which seemed too large to be mere lions.

Our next animal ambassador might be the original source of this myth, for he is neither a lion nor a tiger, but he is about the size of both of them combined.

This is Sudan the Liger!"

I delivered those lines 3 performances a day for many years at Renaissance Festivals and Wild-Life Expos around the country, as emcee for The Tale of The Tiger, Doc Antle's spectacular live stage show. The audience reaction was always the same and I never got tired of seeing it.

Most people had never even heard of a liger, especially before the movie "Napoleon Dynamite" became a hit.

When Sudan took the stage there would be a hush, then as one the crowd would let out their breath amid a flurry of exclamations and exploding flashbulbs.

The sheer size of my majestic co-star was breathtaking. He weighed in at a svelte nine hundred-fifty pounds. We were just about eye-to-eye when he stood on all fours. He was nearly twelve feet tall on his hind legs.

Sudan was the off spring of Arthur an African lion, and Ayla a female Bengal tiger, one of the Marcan - Mahamayavi bloodline.

Sudan, his brother Sampson, and their cousins Hercules, Sinbad, Vulcan and Zeus, as an animal ambassadors, continue to give many people an experience that is quite rare in our modern world. Seeing a liger live onstage, up-close and un-caged gives the audience an appreciation of the majesty of these enormous cats.

Hercules the LigerHercules
Zeus the LigerZeus
Sinbad the LigerSinbad
Vulcan the LigerVulcan

It also makes them think differently about the commonly accepted ideas we all take for granted. The fact of the liger's existence seems to challenge the conventional notions of what is natural.

But Sudan and his brothers and cousins at TIGERS serve a much greater purpose than simply helping people change the way they understand the world. These ligers provide valuable information to the understanding of the role of hybrid animals in the evolutionary process.

They also offer an invaluable opportunity to study the mingling of lion and tiger traits. Studying liger behavior has led to a number of interesting observations, which could prove to be quite important in developing effective husbandry techniques for big felines.

Lions are social, living in prides. Tigers are solitary they live and travel alone.

The last to eat in a lion pride are the cubs. Tiger cubs eat before their parents. Liger cubs also eat first. In times of food shortages lionesses keep their own cubs from eating. Tigers save the best morsels for their cubs. Liger cubs are given the choicest, most tender meat.

Lions usually produce two or three cubs in a litter. Tiger litters are generally one or two cubs. Liger litters are often four or more cubs.

According to Dr. Bhagavan 'Doc' Antle, founder and director of The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species, "Ligers display a blend of traits, from social lion behavior to independent tiger behavior."

Raising, training and studying ligers for more than twenty years has given Doc Antle a unique perspective on the behavior patterns, both physical and mental, of these enormous cats.

"The importance of hybrids is generally disregarded and ignored by many zoological professionals", Doc explains.

"Hybrids lack Genus species names. They are not zoologically significant. However, hybrids have special importance to evolution. They provide safeguards for the survival of pure species. The hybrid vigor exhibited by ligers, their superior size and strength, the combination of both lion and tiger behavior patterns as well as their long healthy life spans, could completely alter the way scientists understand phylogeny, the classification of species."

On April 16, 2006, a hunter in Canada's Northwest Territories shot a polar bear whose fur had an orange tint. Research showed that this animal had a grizzly bear father, making it the first confirmed wild pizzly ever found. Pizzlies had been bred before in captivity.

In 2003, DNA analysis done by the Forest Service confirmed that five odd-looking felines found in Maine and Minnesota were bobcat-lynx hybrids, dubbed blynxes.

Other DNA-confirmed hybrid mammals reported since 1999 include the forest/savanna elephant in sub-Saharan Africa, minks-polecats in France, and a sheep-goat in Botswana.

So, how much do hybrids contribute to evolution?

Nobody really knows. That's what's so exciting about these new DNA discoveries: The story is still unfolding.

Wild felines are inspirational and important living examples of the environmental problems facing our world. Many wild felines are currently on the brink of extinction due to rampant habitat destruction and poaching.

Ligers capture people's attention so they become more willing to learn about critical conservation issues.

Presenting ligers in alternative educational situations allows people the chance to develop a greater understanding and appreciation of their critically endangered wild cousins.

Following one of our stage presentations, or the Wild Encounters Tour at the TIGERS Preserve, people often become more willing to learn about the increasing global issues of extinction and habitat destruction. We teach them that there are solutions to save our planet's biodiversity.

Captive bred hybrids like ligers, as well as purebred felines of every species, are helping to conserve what biodiversity remains by assisting us as conservation ambassadors.

Recent studies conducted on naturally occurring hybrid finches on the Galapagos Islands, found proof to support the hypothesis that certain hybrid genotypes are adapted to specific environmental niches.

Naturally occurring wild hybrids may positively affect changes in the genetic diversity, population dynamics, and interactions between the hybrids and other species.

Hybrids also have a significant effect on the genetic structure of rare species, when those rare species come into contact with more numerous relatives.

The most important thing hybrids do is act as a safeguard for the genetic enrichment of the endangered form.

One example of the use of the hybrid safeguard is the hybridization of the Florida panther.

"The USFWS could either have hybridized the Florida panther or let it go extinct," according to Dr. Judith Rhymer, faculty member at the University of Maine and a USFWS advisor.

Hybrids like ligers act as safeguards from extinction of pure species like tigers and lions. They provide people with an experience that can change their lives and the way the view their role in the ongoing drama of worldwide conservation.

We humans, as the most populous species on Earth have a grave responsibility. We must learn to reduce consumption, reuse everything we can and renew all the rest. If we do not, then the remaining wild places and the animals living in them will disappear and we will follow close behind.

In his twenty-five years as conservation educator Doc Antle has taught millions of people through live shows and tens of millions of people via television and the Internet.

"Seeing wild felines interacting in a personal way with their handlers and friends makes a positive impression on people. Working with these magnificent animal ambassadors has proven to be the most effective way to get our message of the importance of conservation on a global scale to the greatest number of people."

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