A Chinese zoo is facing criticism after successfully cross breeding lions and tigers.
It is estimated there are only 3500 tigers left in the wild, and those working to save the species say cross breeding does nothing to help.
The liger – the product of a union between a male lion and a female tiger – is the largest big cat on the planet.
A zoo in Hainan Province, an island off the south coast of China, has bred 13 of the animals – a world record for the number of cubs born to one mother.
Ligers are said to be sociable, taking after their lion fathers while enjoy swimming – a trait inherited from their mothers
A six-month-old is the pride of the zoo and is given free range in the staff quarters.
“This liger was rejected by his mother when he was small,” says He Zailin. “He was only 600g. He is already six months old.”
The animals grow at an explosive rate, gaining around 1kg a day and can end up like Hercules, the largest on record, weighing over 400kg and measuring 3.5m long
The cross breed doesn’t occur in the wild for the simple fact they don’t share the same habitats.
But both animal rights lobbyists and those trying to save the tiger believe the breeding of ligers does nothing to help preserve endangered species and is dangerous to the animals produced.
“Crossbred animals can’t usually reproduce and they can have many kinds of disease since they are a combination of different species,” says Wu Hung.
“Their genes can oppress the development of normal genes. This is very bad for the animals.
“A lot of zoos are trying to breed, but the success rate is very low. A lot are not successful – only one liger in every 100 fertilisations will survive.”
The zoo says it also has successfully bred tigons, involving the pairing of a female lion and a male tiger.