Are tigons real?

Modern tigons I am told
Modern tigons I am told. Photo in public domain.
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Tigons are very real. Charles Darwin (British naturalist and biologist famous for his theory of evolution) referred to them in 1861. There’s been a lot of breeding between male tigers and lionesses in captivity. Tigons are rarer than ligers (the product of a tigress and a male lion). Sarah Hartwell (an expert of cat genetics and hybrids) on her website messybeast.com refers to a recorded tigon cross-breeding in India in 1837. At this time a tigon was presented to Queen Victoria.

Perhaps the best-known of the early tigons was a cat named Ranji. He was a huge male cat bred by a maharajah (Prince Ranjitsinji, Maharajah Jam Sahib of Nawangagar) and presented to the zoological Gardens in Regent’s Park in 1924 (now London Zoo). A man who was commissioned to make a drawing of this cat said that he was shy. The picture below is of this well-known tigon.

Tigon Ranji 1924
Tigon Ranji 1924

Sarah Hartwell says that tigons are often smaller than either a lion or tiger. However, some have appeared to have benefited from hybrid vigour because they have exceeded the size of their parents. However, she suggests that they may be less robust than either parent. Tigons are less interesting in appearance than ligers. Tigons are sterile according to a report on the messybeast website. Although I don’t think this applies to 100% of tigons.

Their appearance seems to vary a lot depending on the genetics of the parent cats i.e. the subspecies of tiger. But in general the features of the lion and tiger are merged. As to their health, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) say on their website that tigons are not expected to survive infancy. If they survive they have an increased risk of suffering from a range of neurological and physical conditions. PETA, as I am, are against creating hybrid big cats. They are referred to as ‘Frakencats’. It isn’t just hybridisation of this nature that can cause health problems but close inbreeding as is the case with white tigers which can result in anatomical abnormalities such as the case with a well-known white tiger whose name is Kenny. He was born with a cleft palate and crossed eyes. He died at half the normal life of a captive tiger.

As can be seen by the history referred to above of tigons, they have been exhibited as freaks in zoos in various places including London and New York. They are bred for commercial reasons at the expense of ethics and morality. I don’t like it. None of us should like it but they do exist.

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