Leopon (Lioness × Leopard)

Panthera leo × Panthera pardus

Mammalian Hybrids

Video: A leopon on exhibit at a Japanese museum


leopon Lioness × Leopard

leopon Close-up of face (male).
Image: TRJN

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 leopard-lion hybrids 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 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.

The staff at Koshien Hanshin decided to breed lion-leopard hybrids because other zoos were focusing on lion-tiger hybrids. They began by raising a lioness and a male leopard together. She was named Sonoko and her leopard mate, Kaneo. Both were born in 1955.

Their first leopon cubs were born in 1959 after 97 days gestation—the gestation period of a hybrid is usually intermediate in length between those of its parents (in leopards gestation lasts 90-105 days, and in lions, 105-110 days). Three more were born in 1962, a male and two females.

leopon Lioness x Leopard

Leopard Leopard

One of the interesting facts about leopons is that, unlike lions, they're good climbers. They also enjoy water, which often distresses their lioness mothers. Leopons are big animals nearly the size of a lion, with stout bodies, but their legs are shorter, like a leopard’s (Hemmer 1966). They have brown spots, paler than the leopard’s black spots, and tufted tails, like a lion. The base color is pale reddish yellow. Mature males have sparse manes about 8 inches (20 cm) long.

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, however, 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).

Leopard and lioness making friends:

Lioness and leopard Wild lioness nursing leopard cub. This leopard would likely become imprinted on lions, so that it would prefer to mate with lionesses instead of leopards when it reached maturity. More info >>

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. Another lion-leopardess hybrid was born in Schoenbrunn Zoo, Vienna, in 1951.

There is also a three-way cross between leopard, jaguar and lion known.

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Bibliography >>

Internet citations >>

Biology Dictionary >>


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).

Leopon notes:

(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).

Reginald Innes PocockReginald Innes Pocock

Leopon cub skinLeopon cub skin described by Pocock.

(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. Pocock thanked Walter Samuel Millard, the Honorary Secretary of the Bombay Natural History Society, for sending me a skin of a specimen, which, "according to the testimony of Col. F W Wodehouse, was bred in the gardens at Kolhapur between a male panther i.e. a large leopard and a lioness. There were

two cubs in the litter. One, whose skin is here figured, died when about two and a half months old, whereas the other, now about two years old is, I believe, still living. 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.

A list of cat crosses

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.

sheep-pig hybrid Sheep-pig hybrids?
reliability arrow

Cat × Wildcat >>

Lion × Tiger >>

Jaguar × Lion >>

Leopard × Lion >>

Jaguar × Leopard >>

Cat × Pallas’s Cat >>

Cat × Rabbit (Cabbits) >>

Cat × Marten >>

Leopard × Tiger >>

Cat × Dog >>

Cat × Raccoon >>

Cat × Opossum >>

Cat × Human >>

Cat × Rat >>

Cat × Squirrel >>

Cat × Duck >>

Cat × Chicken >>

Cat × Horse >>

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