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Liger numbers on the rise


male liger
Large male liger | For Tigers, 2018

Ligers are a hybrid species, born from a female tiger and male lion (1). They are characterized by their large size and unique spotted and diffused stripe pattern that closely resembles a tiger. Hybrid species like ligers (not to be confused with a tigon, which is born from a male tiger and female lion), often attract attention due to their “exoticness”. As such, ligers can be found in both zoos and private collections, and it is estimated there are at least 100 ligers in the world (2). Reports show that the majority of these can be found in the USA (44%), China (21%) and Russia (10%) (2). These estimates are based on information from zoos, but it is likely that there are considerably more in the world kept in private collections that are not reported on.


Thailand is reported to have the fourth largest population of ligers, making up 9% of all ligers in the world (2). In Thailand, ligers often are bred due to their exception from regulations. Unlike some species, lions and ligers are not protected under the Wild Animal Conservation and Protection Act, B.E.2562 (2019) (3). This means that Thai facilities can still display exotic species that will attract tourists but without having to have the required licenses associated with species, such as tigers, covered by this act.


During our annual welfare assessments, we have noticed a concerning increase in liger numbers in Thailand. In 2017 we identified only six ligers across Thailand. Over the years this number has been increasing rapidly. In the 2023 welfare assessments, we identified thirteen ligers.

Although these numbers may seem low, we have observed that Thailand’s liger population has more than doubled in the last five years, which leaves us concerned about what this means for the future due to the welfare issues associated with ligers. Ligers are known to suffer with numerous health complications. For example, there are commonly issues during birth which require c-sections. Organ failure, arthritis, and cancer are a few of the other health consequences that ligers face (4). While female ligers have been known to reproduce successfully, male ligers are infertile (5). Poor health can impact quality of life and can contribute towards poor animal welfare (6).


liger cub
Liger cub | For Tigers, 2018

The breeding of ligers is widely frowned upon by conservation scientists around the world, largely due to their lack of conservation value, and the associated welfare issues (7). Some private collections argue that ligers should be conserved and are proud to breed and display them (8). However, one of the main issues with breeding ligers, like many other hybrid species, is that they are not naturally occurring in the wild. Lions and tigers do not typically cross paths in the wild, except for in the Gir Forest, India, but there have been no reported hybrids in the wild (5). Because they are not naturally occurring, they offer little educational value and can cause a confusing message to be conveyed. Beyond this, some people feel that ligers exist exclusively because of greed and negligence of the associated health and welfare issues, and that there is no legitimate reason to breed such hybrids (5).


It is suggested that, based on the population trends, global liger numbers will reach 1500 by 2030 (2). Based on this estimation, Thailand’s liger populations could reach 139 by 2030. This is concerning to us because of the health and welfare issues associated with ligers. With this increase, we could see a drop in Thailand’s tiger numbers as zoos may start to favour breeding ligers due to their exemption from regulations. This exemption leaves them unprotected and could mean that this growing liger population will be subject to poor welfare standards. In our future assessments we expect to see growing numbers of ligers and will continue monitor their health and welfare standards.


References

  1. Patel R. Hybrid animals- an interesting update. Blue Cross Book. 2014 Sep 2;30:94–8.

  2. Ligerworld. 100+ Ligers in the World [Internet]. [cited 2023 Aug 19]. Available from: https://www.ligerworld.com/100-ligers-worldwide.html

  3. WILD ANIMAL CONSERVATION AND PROTECTION ACT, B.E.2562(2019) [Internet]. Available from: https://cites.dnp.go.th/npd_app/npd_cites/homepage/download/WILD%20ANIMAL%20CONSERVATION%20AND%20PROTECTION%20ACT,%20B.E.%202562%20(2019).pdf

  4. Reynolds M. PETA. 2017 [cited 2023 Aug 20]. This Is Why Ligers, Tigons, and Other Tiger/Lion Hybrids Shouldn’t Be Bred. Available from: https://www.peta.org/blog/ligers-tigons-frankencats-shouldnt-bred/

  5. National Geographic. Adventure. 2017 [cited 2023 Aug 19]. Cat Experts: Ligers and Other Designer Hybrids Pointless and Unethical. Available from: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/article/wildlife-watch-liger-tigon-big-cat-hybrid

  6. Mellor DJ, Beausoleil NJ, Littlewood KE, McLean AN, McGreevy PD, Jones B, et al. The 2020 Five Domains Model: Including Human–Animal Interactions in Assessments of Animal Welfare. Animals [Internet]. 2020 Oct [cited 2023 Jul 19];10(10):1870. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/10/10/1870

  7. Fedor Kossakovski. PBS NewsHour. 2017 [cited 2023 Aug 19]. Analysis: The thorny ethics of hybrid animals. Available from: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/analysis-the-thorny-ethics-of-hybrid-animals

  8. Ligerworld. Ligers & Big Cats Conservation [Internet]. [cited 2023 Aug 19]. Available from: https://www.ligerworld.com/ligers-big-cat-conservation.html

  9. World Animal Protection. Tiger selfies exposed: A portrait of Thailand’s tiger entertainment industry. 2016; Available from: https://www.worldanimalprotection.org/sites/default/files/media/int_files/tiger_selfies_exposed_a_portrait_of_thailands_tiger_entertainment_industry.pdf



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