Panthera pardus × Panthera pardus
A leopon (pronounced: "LEP-ən") is the hybrid produced by a mating between a lioness and a leopard. The hybrid produced from the reciprocal cross (lion x leopardess) is called a lipard (pronounced: "LIP-erd").
Many leopons have been bred in captivity. Best known are those born at Koshien Hanshin Park in Nishinomiya, Japan in the late fifties and early sixties, one of which survived more than twenty years. This is longer than would be usual for a leopard (maximum recorded life span in captivity 23 years) or a lion, which has an average captive life expectancy of 13 years.
Although the leopard and lion come into contact in sub-Saharan Africa, it is widely believed that a leopon could not occur in a natural state because a leopard would be unable to mate with an unsedated lioness. But many reported hybrids of this type were the result of unplanned crosses in captivity. Doi and Reynolds (1967) say a lioness willingly and regularly lay on her side for a leopard to mount (the pair in question were raised together).
There are anecdotal reports of natural hybrids, known as marozis, from Cameroon, Central African Republic, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, and Ethiopia. Apparently, the only solid evidence of hybridization occurring in the wild is a skin (and possible skull) in the British Museum of Natural History, shot in 1931 in Kenya's Aberdare Mountains (this pelt is described in detail in Note 4 below).
As to the reciprocal cross, Florio (1983) reports a case of a lipard, occurring in Italy. In this particular case there was a large difference in the sizes of the parents. The lion father weighed 550 pounds (250 kg), while the leopard mother weighed a mere 84 pounds (38 kg). Unfortunately for the mom, the lion attempted to mate at every opportunity.
Antonius (1951b); Doi and Reynolds (1967); Flower (1929a); Gray (1972); Hemmer (1966: figs. 75, 76, 78, 1968c); International Zoo Yearbook (1959, 1960, 1961, 1962); Petzsch (1956); Peters (1978); Pocock (1908a, 1908b, 1913, 1951) (List of Works cited).
(1) Stuffed leopons are on display in Japan at the National Science Museum in Tokyo.
(2) According to Jerdon (1874: 174), Arab tradition says the cheetah is a product of this cross (see also Platt 1909).
(3) This hybrid was apparently known even in ancient times, since it is mentioned by Pliny (Natural History, Book VIII, xvii).
(4) In a letter to The Field (Nov. 2nd, 1912), R. I. Pocock gives the following description of the pelt of a leopon, now in the British Museum of Natural History, bred at the zoological gardens at Kolhapur, India:
At first sight this skin recalls that of the leopard in being covered with spots; but those on the side of the body are much smaller and closer set than in a typical Indian leopard's, and also browner and altogether less distinct, as if beginning to disappear with age … On the head, down the spine, on the belly and the legs, they are however quite black and distinct. The tail is very confusedly spotted above, but striped below, and has a blackish tip covered with longer hairs. Another leonine feature is the dirty white — rather than clear white — tint of the underside, while the ears are fawn with a broad, black bar, but are without the white spot seen in leopards
(5) Reginald Pocock (1951) describes the skin of a wild-shot leopon:
It is a male, measuring approximately: head and body 5 ft. 10 1/2 in., tail, without terminal hairs of the tuft, 2 ft. 9 in., making a total of about 8 ft. 8 in. This is of course small for adult East African lions, of which the dressed skins may surpass 10 ft. over all. From its size I guessed it to be about three years old, a year or more short of full size. There is nothing particularly noticeable in its mane, which is small and, except on the cheeks, consists of a mixture of tawny, grey and black hairs, the longest up to about 5 in. in length. … the peculiarity of the skin lies in the distinctness of the pattern of spots, consisting of large 'jaguarine' rosettes arranged in obliquely vertical lines and extending over the flanks, shoulders and thighs up to the darker spinal area where they disappear. They are irregular in size and shape, the largest measuring 85 by 45 or 65 by 65 mm. In diameter. Their general hue is pale greyish-brown, with slightly darkened centres, but at the periphery they are thrown into relief by the paler tint of the spaces between them. On the pale cream-buff belly, the solid richer buff spots stand out tolerably clearly. The legs are covered with solid spots, more distinct than the rosettes of the flanks, and on the hind legs they are more scattered and a deeper, more smoky grey tint than on the fore legs.
By the same author: Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World, Oxford University Press (2006).
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