3 lion-tiger cubs weaned in Nanjing
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Three lion-tiger hybrid cubs have made it through their critical first four-months of life at Nanjing zoo. Born on May 4, this year, the baby “ligers”, who have just been weaned, are Nanjing’s first surviving cubs resulting from a natural mating, according to a September 12 report in the Modern Express newspaper.
Keeper Zhu Jialin said the cubs’ African lion father and Bengal white tiger mother were both born at Nanjing Zoo in 2002.
“The first liger cub in China was born here in 2002, but only lived seven days. It was terribly sad for us all. But we were determined to breed a lion-tiger or tiger-lion. So we raised four tigers and three lions together hoping they would eventually mate and breed.” In the end the African lion and Bengal white tiger paired up.
A big cat expert at the zoo said lions are gregarious animals but tigers tend to be solitary. They may play together, but seldom fell in love or form long-lasting bonds. Even in an artificial breeding environment, the chance of them getting pregnant is only 1 to 2 percent. And since liger cubs often suffer from genetic defects, the survival rate is only one in five hundred thousand. Worldwide there are only a few dozen such animals.
This March, Zhu noticed that the cubs’ mother Xiao Xue looked sleepy and was losing her appetite. The experienced keeper realized Xiaoxue was pregnant. As he thought, after 110 days Xiaoxue gave birth to three cubs on May 4.
“It wasn’t easy for her to have three cubs in her first pregnancy,” Zhu said, adding that usually only two were born in a first pregnancy even in Hainan Tropical Wildlife Park, China’s top big cat breeding center.
Three cubs of normal weight of about one kilogram were born, but within four months they had grown to an astonishing 17 kilograms, while at the same age tigers and lions are about 10 and 8-9 kilograms respectively.
The big cat expert explained that “a lion-tiger is very big. An adult weighs around 400 kilograms.” The reason is that the male lion and female tiger don’t transmit growth control genes to their offspring.
The little cubs inherited lion stripes on their heads, and tiger stripes on their legs and tails. Their fur is the same pale yellow as their father’s.
After being weaned, they are on a diet of about 2.5 kilograms of chicken and 2 kilograms of beef a day, plus eggs and milk.
The big question remains how long they will survive. Experience shows most lion-tigers die young because they have low resistance to diseases. The longest surviving liger is 20 year old Lili, who was born in France but lives in the Bifengxia Valley Ecological Park in Sichuan Province. Domestically bred ligers live less than three years.
(China.org.cn by Zhou Jing, September 12, 2008)