Can tigers mate with: leopards, jaguars and lions?

Can tigers mate with lions, leopards and jaguars?
Can tigers mate with lions, leopards and jaguars? Infographic by MikeB.

The best source for information of this kind is Sarah Hartwell’s messybeast.com.

She is quite clear on this. While lions, jaguars and leopards can all mate with each other to ‘form viable hybrids’, the tiger can only successfully mate to produce viable offspring with the lion. When a tiger mates with the leopard the cubs are non-viable and the foetuses are aborted.

  • Tiger mating with the leopard – NO
  • Tiger mating with the lion – Tigon (male tiger and female lion)
  • Tiger mating with a lion – Liger (male lion and female tiger)

There have been attempts (Carl Hagenbeck 1990) at creating a Bengal tiger/leopard hybrid called a ‘tigard’ or ‘leoger’ but as mentioned the offspring were stillborn. The coat contained spots, rosettes and stripes.

“[The] convention would term the offspring of a leopard x tigress mating a ‘leoger’ and the offspring of a tiger x leopardess mating a ‘Tigard’.” – Hartwell.

There was and perhaps still is a traditional belief in India that female tigers mated with leopards with stories (anecdotal reports) of naturally occurring hybrids. They must be untrue. There is a fair amount of superstition surrounding these sorts of animals.

For example, Frederick Codington Hicks, who wrote Forty Years among the Wild Animals of India (1910) writes:

“There is a persistent idea among the natives all over India that the largest males of this species frequently mate with tigresses, who point as proof to the excessively prominent stripes with which some of these largest panthers are marked in the lower portions of the body about their stomach, calling them ‘doglas’ or hybrids [note: dogla is the Hindi word for any type of hybrid]. But this I think is a mistake, for I once, and once only, had the fortune to shoot a true hybrid, between a panther and a tigress I think, which was a vastly different looking animal to that referred to by the natives as a ‘dogla’. It happened shortly before I was mauled that I beat for what I thought was a tigress, the footmarks of the animal being like that of a female feline. 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, though looking a bit dirty as if it had been rolling in ashes. I succeeded in dropping this extraordinary creature dead with a shot in the neck, and, on examining it, I found it to be a very old male hybrid, with both its teeth and claws much worn and broken; its head and tail were purely that of a panther, but with a body, shoulders, and neck-ruff unmistakably that of a tiger, the black stripes being broad and long though somewhat blurred and breaking off here and there into a few blurred rosettes, the stripes of the tiger being the most predominant on the body. “

The term ‘dogla’ means mixed race.

Here is a chart I have used on another page.

Big Cat Hybrids infographic
Big Cat Hybrids infographic by MikeB with thanks to Sarah Hartwell.

Ligers are larger than tigons due to ‘genomic imprinting’. The size depends on whether the growth genes are inherited from the male or female. Whether the female engages in non-competitive mating (with one male) or competitive mating (many males) influences the process. It results, according to Hartwell in growth dysplasia.

P.S. the big cat hybrids are human selective breeding creations borne out of inquisitiveness. They happen in captivity and not in the wild.

Below are some more pages on hybrids.

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Meet Pumba, the fat, pet caracal of Latvia who wants to escape

The Metro.co.uk website headline is “Meet the loving domesticated wild cat who ‘hates being alone'”. As soon as you see the pictures of this beloved caracal you can see that he is obese. This is not right. Note: this article is in 2 parts with a link to the second part at the base of this section.

Obese Pumba pet caracal of Latvia
Obese Pumba pet caracal of Latvia. Instagram screenshot.

As expected, it is legal to own a caracal in Latvia. I’d expect fairly lax laws on exotic animal ownership in the Baltic states and Russia. The caracal is a medium-sized wild cat species. They are highly athletic. The kind of space that the male caracal requires in the wild is 220 square kilometres! And owners of these cats expect them to be happy living in a home or an enclosure of 25 square meters. The caracal inherits a desire to roam over large areas.

RELATED: Infographic on caracal description

Pumba lives with Deniss Jegorovs. Apparently, he hates being alone and joins Deniss to watch television. He screams when he is lonely. I bet that it is an intimidating sound. Denis feeds him three times a day. Right, great. He’s feeding too much or giving him treats in between feeds. And he’s not getting anywhere near enough exercise.

Obese Pumba pet caracal of Latvia
Obese Pumba pet caracal of Latvia. Photo: Instagram.

Deniss admits that Pumba wakes him in the morning and begs for food. He is terminally bored that’s why he begs for food. There’s your problem. He lives outside the home from mid-fall to mid-spring.

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Is it legal to own a caracal in Michigan?

COMMENT: It is legal for an individual citizen of the state of Michigan, USA to own a caracal because the ownership of this medium-sized wild cat species is unregulated in that state. This surprises me and it is in quite stark contrast to, for example, the state of Florida where a permit is required to own a caracal. And in Florida an application for a permit is quite demanding.

Captive caracals in Michigan
Captive caracals in Michigan. The owner of four Caracal cats in Royal Oak has agreed to relocate the animals after they had escaped multiple times. (WDIV)

In Michigan, the possession of lions, tigers, cougars, cheetahs, leopards, jaguars and panthers is illegal. This includes the importation of the animals except under certain special exemptions. Michigan’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development are imprecise and need to study the wild cats because they refer to “panthers”. This is a generic term. It is not a species of cat. It describes either the puma or when black the jaguar or leopard. I presume the reference is to the puma but they could be more precise about it.

There is a persistent story, indeed a saga, coming out of Michigan about the owner of four caracals who has belatedly agreed to relocate them after they had persistently escaped from her Oakland County property. The owner has been issued with five violations after the most recent escape. Three of her caracals were found quite quickly while the fourth was located later.

The police deemed that she was unable to keep the cats contained on her property. She was encouraged to move them to a more suitable environment. She agreed.

Her problem highlights what can go wrong when the ownership of caracals and other medium-sized wildcats are unregulated. In my view they should be regulated because caracals are highly athletic. They have the highest standing start vertical jump of any cat. They will want to escape because in the wild their natural range would be many square kilometres and not an enclosure of 20 yd² or thereabouts. And if they can’t escape from confinement they will be unhappy so what’s the point in keeping them?

The only point is that people like exotic creatures. They like them so much that they want to possess them. It goes against conservation because it is treating a wild animal that should be living in the world, in their natural habitat, as a human possession like a beautiful car or a fancy watch. That is not the attitude you want from the citizens of the world when there is a necessity to enhance wildlife conservation because of the pressures placed on nature by human activity including global warming.

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Are caracals legal in New York state?

Pet caracal
Pet caracal . I don’t know where this is. They must have a license but it may be Russia where the rules are probably slacker. Photo: Andrey Bondarev/Caters News

Caracals, as pets, are illegal in New York state and New York City. I discuss the law below.

New York state

The following law applies if you are considering having a caracal as a pet and you live in New York State:

New York Consolidated Laws, Environmental Conservation Law – ENV § 11-0512. Possession, sale, barter, transfer, exchange and import of wild animals as pets prohibited. Here is a screenshot:

Screenshot of law concerning keeping wild animals as pets in NY state
Screenshot of law concerning keeping wild animals as pets in NY state

This law states that it is prohibited for any person to possess any wild animal for use as a pet in New York state. There are exceptions. There are two types of exception. Firstly, if you had a caracal as a pet before the law came into effect you can keep it under certain strict conditions. I can’t find out when the law was enacted. Secondly, organisations and institutions such as zoos and research facilities are allowed to have a caracal. There will be strict rules governing the keeping of the animal within these exceptions. You can read about those rules and exceptions by clicking on this link. Please note, however, that sometimes links to external websites break but I have no control over that.

There is a complete list of animals defined as being wild animals under New York legislation which you can read by clicking on the link below:

NYS wild animal list

It is a very comprehensive list (under 11-0103) and it includes the caracal as expected. I cannot confirm conclusively that this list is up to date as at 2021. I suspect that it is. It includes, as expected, the caracal because essentially even small wild cats are dangerous animals. They can harm their owner and other people.

Caracal wild animal in NY state
Caracal wild animal in NY state

New York city

You would expect the rules on owning a caracal in New York City to be the same as those of New York state. On the official website of the city of New York, they have a page which tells us that animals which are not allowed to be kept as pets include the following cats: lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, pumas, panthers, mountain lions, cheetahs, cougars, bobcats, lynxes, and other undomesticated cats. The caracal is not mentioned. However, they do state “and other undomesticated cats”. It seems to me that the caracal is an inadvertent omission but is caught within the law because it is an undomesticated cat.

The conclusion, therefore, is that is not legal to have a caracal as a pet in New York city. You can see the page that I’ve referred to by clicking on this link. Once again the sorts of external links can break so it doesn’t go to the webpage I’m sorry but I can’t control that. I have provided a screenshot as a backup:

Animals not alllowed as pets in NY city
Animals not allowed as pets in NY city

If you have any questions please ask in a comment. Thanks.

SOME MORE ON ANIMAL LAWS:

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Are caracals legal in California?

Caracals (and rusty-spotted cats) are legal in California PROVIDED you have a permit under 14 CCR § 671. Importation, Transportation and Possession of Live Restricted Animals. You’ll find a document on permits at § 671.1.

Pet caracal
Pet caracal. Photo in public domain.

In summary, that is the answer to the question. You will have to apply for a permit for any wild cat species that you wish to possess and own in California. Also, hybrids of domestic cats are not restricted. This implies that the first filial (F1 and a lower) wild cat hybrids are not restricted so you could own an F1 Savannah cat without a licence in California, for example.

Cheetah excepted
Cheetah excepted

I would recommend that a person wishing to own and possess a caracal or any other wild cat species in California contact their local authority and/or the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Ironically, at this particular moment, while researching this answer, their website is down!

The Thomson Reuters Westlaw California Code of Regulations which lists 671 which states that “It shall be unlawful to….possess live animals restricted in subsection (c) below except under permit issued by the department”. Section 671.1 lists the purposes for which a permit shall be granted and which is subject to conditions and restrictions designated by the department.

Caracal on top of fridge in home
Caracal on top of fridge in the home of Deborah-Ann Millett, USA.

As this is a complicated topic is better to speak to somebody on the phone because they will get to the point quickly, hopefully, rather than ploughing through a pile of technical documents which might baffle you.

Clearly, the law applies to individuals owning a caracal and zoos and breeders. And therefore, there are different rules for different individuals and organisations. No doubt some individuals might like to own a caracal as a pet. My thought there is that only under exceptional circumstances is it a good idea. Although caracals are one of those wild cat species which are more predisposed than others to being a pet rather like the cheetah. Both the caracal and cheetah have a history of working with people and hunting with people. You can go back thousands of years and find records of both these wild cat species working with people as hunters.

Cross-reference

I would cross-reference federal animal laws and more local animals laws i.e. city regulations, to make sure that there isn’t a clash. It is complicated, I think. You have to be careful.

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Should tigers be housed together?

People are using Google’s search engine to find out if tigers should be housed together when in captivity. And the answer is no because tigers are solitary animals. A zoo needs to replicate, as best they can, what happens in the wild. Clearly they are unable to do it because in captivity they normally live in cages or enclosures. These are relatively small areas compared to their home ranges in the wild.

In the wild, tiger society, like that of almost all cats, is about individual cats living and hunting by themselves. They encounter each other sometimes and a male tiger will associate with a female tiger for mating purposes and occasionally share a kill but the only times tigers are housed with another tiger is (1) when they are mating and (2) when a female is living with her offspring. If you are a zookeeper reading this please contribute. I am open to counterarguments.

Sumatran tiger
Sumatran tiger by Brookshaw Photography

Essentially solitary animals

Each individual tiger hunts for prey alone but there is a network between them which represents a social system, which is maintained through a combination of vocalisations, scent marks and visual signals.

I don’t work in a zoo and I have never managed a zoo. However, there must be a time when zoo management decide to try and create tiger cubs by mating a male with a female and that I presume is carried out under highly controlled conditions. On those occasions two tigers will be temporarily housed together for mating purposes.

If the mating is successful the female will be with her offspring so once, again until the cubs are weaned, there will be a situation in which tigers are housed together, albeit a mother and her cubs.

Tiger bites during mating
Tiger bites during mating. Photo in public domain. Here you see tigers together in captivity but temporarily. Picture in public domain.

Seeing captive tigers together

The question in the title may have been prompted by pictures on the Internet of tigers in close proximity with each other in captivity. For example a lot of American private zoos have tigers apparently living together. It must be the case that when tigers live together like this, in captivity, it is because they were raised from newborns together and they are also semi-domesticated, or as domesticated as they can be as tigers. This suppresses natural behaviour. All they’ve known is living in small spaces and in an artificial environment. They probably are socialised to their zookeepers as well and become somewhat like a pet albeit a dangerous one. So you will see pictures of tigers living together in cages but it is in an unnatural state, created artificially.

Tigers as pets

You will also see tigers as pets in the homes of some celebrities. This is rare but you’ll see tigers living with tigers and tigers living with lions and also ligers and tigons living together. All these scenarios are artificial and the natural behaviour of these animals has been knocked out of them. The old circuses achieved the same state of affairs.

Land tenure

To return to the wild briefly. In the wild you will find that a male tiger’s “land tenure” i.e. the area of land which he considers his home (home range) encompasses the home ranges of three females. And he will visit these females to mate.

Mating

A brief note on tigers mating. When tigresses are reproductively active they come into oestrous about every 25 days. They increase scent marking which ensures that the male arrives. They spend no more than a few hours together mating and the interval between the sessions is normally 25 days. The female tiger then increases the rate of scent marking, inviting the male, and the couple spend two days together and the male leaves. If conception is not achieved the female continues to cycle and the male returns 25 days later.

I’ve mentioned in brief the mating process because it obviously informs zookeepers as to how they should prepare their tigers for mating in captivity. Comments and contributions are welcome.

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What do you feed captive wild cats?

If you want to know what to feed captive wild cats you can do a lot worse than reading Big Cat Rescue’s articles on this subject. They have become experts through trial and error over many years. Whether you like BCR or not – and I like them – they are very impressive in their knowledge of the captive wild feline diet.

Premix for adding to wild cat diet of meats
Premix for adding to wild cat diet of meats

It is complicated and it is not simply a matter of chucking lumps of raw muscle meat into a cage and letting the captive wild cat get on with it. However, at its core feeding captive wild cats is very similar to feeding domestic cats a raw food diet which is unsurprising since they are essentially the same animal physiologically.

On this page I cover the topic in outline. If you want more hard detail please read the BCR information. There’s lots of it. As I said it is complicated and requires real thought and precision.

Raw Meats + Premix

For the record, you can’t feed captive wild cats kibble (dry cat food) which is very popular with domestic cat owners as they hate it. As I understand it, the core diet for captive wild cats at BCR is raw meat, supplied commercially and frozen, to which is added a ‘premix’ which is a combination of essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E, niacin, vitamin A and taurine. BCR use or used Triple A Brand Meat Company.

This core diet is or was provided by Natural Balance Zoo Carnivore Diet which satisfies the requirements of captive cats at a fundamental level. BCR have been using Natural Balance Zoo Carnivore Diet since 2005 they say. Things may have changed over the years. The video below shows the same system of raw meats – a mixture of chicken quarters and beef – to which is added five pounds of premix which is the essential nutrients as mentioned. The video shows tiger food but the basic model is the same for all wild cat species. The video was made 10 years ago so they may have adjusted the method since then but the basics are the same.

Before that, in the early days, they used a canned diet, Zoopreme® which the cats hated. I can’t see it on the internet, incidentally, so it may have been discontinued. They also tried a specially prepared dry food for zoo animals and that failed as well. It was Purina’s Mazuri Zoo Diet®. The cats simply did not like it. They mixed it with muscle meat but it seems it was never successful.

Whole Prey

To the basic diet mentioned above is added the experience of eating whole prey. This is because while cats like the experience of crunching their prey and it helps to keep their teeth clean. The fur and feathers also helps to keep the digestive tract in good working order. BCR say that the fur and feathers also encourage play. It’s about stimulating the cats. Feeding time is the best part of the day for the cats so they make it as interesting as possible. These are pre-killed animals such as rabbits and chickens.

Live Prey

If the cat is being prepared for return to the wild such as rescued bobcats then they are occasionally feed live prey such as mice, rats or rabbits. A carefully thought out system is used to feed the cats live prey to ensure that they can survive when they are independent.

Fasting

Lastly, the cats are put on a regime of fasting during one day of the week which I believe is Sundays. They feed the cat six nights a week and fast on Sundays. The fasting is meant to replicate what happens in the wild. BCR say that they do not fast young cats, old cats or ailing cats.

You’ll see in a video that BCR also feed treats from time to time of raw muscle meat to the cats in smallish chunks.

The fasting is interesting because yesterday in The Times newspaper there was an article about the benefits of fasting for humans. One man said:

“Giving one’s body a break from food, for anything from 12 hours to five days is like taking a car to be serviced.”

It replicates the eating pattern of our ancient ancestors. Check with your doctor before trying it out.

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White Tiger Desperate For Human Company

Captive white tiger desperate for human company
Captive white tiger desperate for human company

I interpret this captive white tiger’s behaviour as indicating that he/she is desperate for company and specifically human company. This is probably a tame tiger. Perhaps she was raised in captivity. However, it is clear that she is alone far too much. Having experienced human company she expects it and even depends on it. That’s my view on this. She wants to taste the person’s hand. And she rubs her head against the glass. This action was clearly intended to be against the visitor’s head or hand. This is the classic friendly feline behavior we experience with our domestic cat companions.

Big Kitty from r/aww

I have experienced this sort of feline behavior myself on a cat breeding ‘farm’ in Oklahoma. I entered the enclosure of a 4th filial black Savannah cat. He was slightly wild but desperate for human company. He licked my trousers endlessly until they were wet. He just wanted company. I felt sorry for him and stayed quite
a long time. The female with him had a head tilt due vestibular disease (inner ear condition). For me that was cruel. Cruel to keep cats in small enclosures all their lives just to make them breed. He was a beautiful cat.

This is the cat I am referring to:

Melanistic Savannah cat
Melanistic Savannah cat. Photo: Michael

P.S. White tigers are often abused because they are so popular. They are all offspring of one male white tiger from India. Yep all of them and they are all in zoos. Because the gene pool is so small there is inbreeding and deformities sometimes. We don’t see these tigers normally. They are possible killed as they are not attractive and the whole damn purpose for the existence of white tigers in zoos is to attract paying customers. And they want to see them because they look glamorous. The backstory is very unglamorous.

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