EUGENE M. MCCARTHY, PHD GENETICS
Leopard-tiger hybrids are usually called “tigards” or, sometimes, “leogers.” In 1977, according to the British newspaper The Sun, a tigard was birthed by a tigress at Southham Zoo in Warwickshire, UK. Its sire was a melanistic leopard, that is, what is usually called a black panther. As an adult, this particular leopard-tiger hybrid closely resembled a normal leopard with respect to coat color, but its face was clearly tiger-like (which reverses the description given by Hicks below). It was sold to an American zoo.
Tiger (Panthera tigris)|
Image: Wikimedia (S. Taheri)
Hybridization between tiger and leopard is, however, poorly known, with most accounts of leopard-tiger hybrids being little more than old stories about strange skins seen for sale in shops. Leopard-lion hybrids ("leopons") and lion-tiger hybrids ("ligers") are far more common.
Showman Carl Hagenbeck (1909, p. 116) says he had “heard of a cross between a tiger and a female panther but the young one was born prematurely and had no vitality. I know of another similar case.” Other early reports (Reisinger 1929; Rörig 1903) mention an aborted fetus.
In India, where local tradition has it that the tigress sometimes crosses with the leopard (Sankhala 1977), there have been anecdotal reports of naturally occurring leopard-tiger hybrids. In his Forty Years among the Wild Animals of India (1910, pp. 184-185), Frederick Codrington Hicks says that leopards (which he called panthers) were quite variable in size in India, and that the larger ones “are generally found in very heavy forests, where they often attain to a great size, sometimes to over eight feet in length, the size of
a tigress. 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. One of the peculiarities of this creature which I particularly noticed was, that though it was male, it had the feet of a female and measured a little over 8 feet in length.
This unique trophy, I am sorry to say, disappeared during the general confusion that followed on my being mauled; it may have been sold off with others of my things while I lay unconscious or it may have been stolen; I never succeeded in tracing it again.
Having thus once seen a true hybrid, I am inclined to doubt whether there is really anything in the native idea of connecting some of the larger species of panthers, which they call ‘doglas’, with tigers; on the other hand, it has yet to be proved whether such a hybrid as I shot is capable of breeding again, or whether it is sterile. If they are capable of breeding again in their turn with other panthers, then there may be a great deal in this idea of the natives; in which case it may well be that it is originally owing to such crossings with tigers that we have the large species of panthers in India.
This interesting account, together with Hicks’' claim that leopard specimens that he had encountered ranged from 50 pounds to the size of a tigress, suggest that extensive interbreeding may once have occurred in India between tiger and leopard. Modern-day Indian populations of these cats are now so decimated, however, that interbreeding may no longer occur and past natural hybridization may prove impossible to verify (except, perhaps, through genetic testing of preserved specimens).
The following is a list of reported cat crosses. Some of these crosses are much better documented than others (as indicated by the reliability arrow). Indeed, some might seem completely impossible. But all have been reported at least once. The links below are to separate articles. Additional crosses, not listed here, are covered on the cat hybrids page.
By the same author: Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World, Oxford University Press (2006).
Human Origins: Are we hybrids?
On the Origins of New Forms of Life
Cat-rabbit Hybrids: Fact or fiction?
Georges Cuvier: A Biography
Prothero: A Rebuttal
Branches of Biology