HYBRIDS BETWEEN LEOPARDS AND TIGERS
On 14th December 1900, Carl Hagenbeck wrote to zoologist James Cossar Ewart saying that he was attempting to cross a female leopard with a Bengal tiger. It was reported that the offspring were stillborn, having both spots/rosettes and stripes.
A Rörig (1903), H Scherren (1908) and L Reisinger (1929) all report that the mating of a male tiger to a female leopard resulted in conception, but the mouse-sized foetus was aborted.
In The Field No 2887, April 25th, 1908, Henry Scherren wrote "A male tiger from Penang served two female Indian leopards, and twice with success. Details are not given and the story concludes somewhat lamely. 'The leopardess dropped her cubs prematurely, the embryos were in the first stage of development and were scarcely as big as young mice.' Of the second leopardess there is no mention. "
AP Gray's book entitled "Mammalian Hybrids" (1951, revised 1974) reported that tiger/leopard matings were infertile, producing spontaneously aborted "walnut sized foetuses" while others have referred merely to "stillborn offspring".
This suggests a serious developmental problem with the foetuses at a relatively early stage (growth dysplasia) or a mismatch/incompatibility between the foetus and the host (mother). See the description of a dogla for an indication as to how a tiger-leopardess hybrid might look. The dogla is claimed to result from the converse mating: leopard to tigress. Anecdotal evidence from India suggests this pairing produces viable offspring.
In the newsletter of the Long Island Ocelot Club, September 1965, Loralee Vigne wrote a piece about the "Siamese Jungle Cat" in which she wrote "In Bangkok, Thailand, we became the owners of a "Siamese Jungle Cat". This came about in the following manner. I was walking along a street when I noticed a shop in which a most peculiar animal skin was displayed. I went in to inquire as to its origin and was assured that it was a cross between a leopard and a tiger. Now, I'd heard of ligers and tylons [sic], but leopgers or tigards were news to me. Yet there in front of me was a skin that proved it." Based on the incompatibility issues between the 2 species, the skin seen by Vigne could not have been a hybrid and may have been that of a Clouded Leopard.
According to Indian folklore, large male leopards sometimes mate with tigresses. A supposed natural leopard/tigress hybrid was reported in India in the early 1900s. Some large leopards with abdominal striping were observed, but were not confirmed as hybrids and were possibly leopards with aberrant patterns where rosettes had merged into swirls or stripes. In Harmsworth Natural History (1910), R Lydekker noted that the native Indian name for leopard translated to "spotted tiger" (chita-bagh). "Bagh" simply means "big cat", though Europeans understood it to mean "tiger". This linguistic misunderstanding may have added to tales of tiger-leopard hybrids.
An obvious leopard/tiger hybrid was shot, but was nothing like description of a dogla. It was male, larger than a leopard, and had the head and tail of a leopard and the body, shoulders and neck-ruff of a tiger. The pattern was a combination of rosettes and stripes; the stripes were black, broad and long, though somewhat blurred and tended to break up into rosettes. The head was spotted. The stripes predominated over the rosettes. The pelt of this hybrid was lost. Though male, it showed some feminization of features, though this would not be unusual for a sterile male hybrid. This would seem to be the animal described by F.C. Hicks, a Deputy Conservator of the Imperial Forest Service who wrote in his book "Forty Years Among The Wild Animals Of India" (1910), about an apparent leopard/tiger hybrid: "During the beat the spotted head of a panther of extraordinary size pushed its way through the grass, followed by the unmistakable striped shoulders and body of a tiger. On examining it, I found it to be a very old male hybrid. Its head and tail were purely those of a panther, but with the body, shoulders, and neck ruff of a tiger."
Kailash Sankhala's book "Tiger" refers to large troublesome leopards as "adhabaghera" (half-cross) which he translated as "bastard" and which suggests a the dogla (tiger/leopard hybrid) belief of local people. Unusually large leopards that attack villages were sometimes considered to be adhabagheras. Sankhala himself did not believe there ever were any leopard/tiger hybrids. With regard to the animal shot by Hicks, Sankhala says there is no such specimen in any museum. He also noted the purely platonic fraternization of a tiger and leopard observed in Ranthambor in 1928 and documented in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. Sadly both animals were shot.
Leopards and tigers will use the same track and have been seen feeding at the same kill, usually one after the other has left. Generally the larger tiger will force the leopard away. A case of the young tigress and adult leopardess on the same kill in the Sawai Madhopur forests of Ranthambhor in 1928 was reported by Abdul Shakur Khan (1935). The kill was used as bait and both animals were shot within 2 hours on 07/06/1928, but it appeared that the leopard was in the habit of poaching the tigresses kills. Further study of pugmarks indicated they were living together.
Iftikhar Ali Khan (1936) observed a large leopard (2.38 metres) and a well-grown tigress (2.51 metres) preying together for several nights. The leopard made the kill with the help of the tigress and both animals fed together. Once again, both animals were shot in a hunt. Although the association of the 2 animals was attributed to sexual attraction, there was no evidence of courtship or mating behaviour between the two animals.
As a result of the reports by Abdul Shakur Khan and Iftikhar Ali Khan, Delhi Zoo planned to hybridize a male leopard with a tigress, noting that there had been no previous attempts at this.
H Hemmer (1966) described an elderly male that was reputed to be a leopard x tiger hybrid. Its head and neck resembled a leopard, but the body, shoulders and neck-ruff resembled a tiger. It had broad, long black stripes that were somewhat blurred and broke off here and there into blurred rosettes.
In "The Tiger, Symbol Of Freedom", Nicholas Courtney wrote "Rare reports have been made of tigresses mating with lions in the wild. There has even been an account of the sighting of an animal thought to be the cross between a tiger and a female panther [leopard]." This particular specimen disappeared after seriously mauling the witness who described his attacker: "...its head and neck were purely those of a panther but the body, shoulders, and neck ruff unmistakably of a tiger - the black stripes being broad and long, though somewhat blurred rosettes, the stripes of the tiger being most prominent in the body. The animal was a male measuring a little over eight feet." (The same description as Hicks' animal). These reports originated from the Gir forest region, and were reprinted in Valmik Thapar's "Tiger", but Courtney did not provide a date. Natural hybrids might occur if local populations of one species were so small that same-species mates could not be found (a comparable situation is that of natural bobcat/lynx hybrids in parts of the USA).
In his book "Tiger", KS Sankhala noted the belief amongst local people that tigers and leopards naturally hybridise. There was, at one point, a plan to test this theory at New Delhi Zoo in the 1970s. The Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society carried a report of a leopard and a tiger who were friends in the wild and who shared kills.
A TIGER/HUMAN "MATING"
In "Jehangir" (column 1, page 157) there is a report of a tiger attempting to mate with a human. This occurred at Agra in the year 1609. The Moghul Emperor Jehangir wrote "They brought a tiger from my private menagerie to fight with a bull. Many people gathered together to see the show, and a band of Jogis [religious mendicants, Yogis] with them. One of the Jogis was naked [quite normal for a Yogi] and the tiger by way of sport, and not with the idea of rage, turned towards him. It threw him on the ground and began to behave to him as it would do to its own female. The next day, and on several other occasions, the same thing took place. As no such thing had ever been seen before, and was exceedingly strange, this has been recorded." Personally, I find it surprising that the sexual activity between the tiger and the Yogi was repeated!
REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING
Courtney, N. The Tiger, Symbol Of Freedom
Gray, AP. 1951, revised 1974. Mammalian Hybrids
Hagenbeck (Letters to Cossar Ewart)
Hicks, FC. 1910. Forty Years Among The Wild Animals Of India
Robinson's Genetics for Cat Breeders & Veterinarians 4th Ed (the current version)
Valmik Thapar, Valmik. "Tiger The Ultimate Guide"
Textual content is licensed under the GFDL.
Many thanks to Paul McCarthy for tirelessly researching back issues of The Field and The Times.
BACK TO HYBRID & MUTANT BIG CATS INDEX