A copy of some text I photocopied some years back on hybridisation in cats. I have no record of which publication it was taken from but does anyone recognise the name mentioned at the end? Fran Lockhart
Speciation, or assigning separate species status, is a complex and often thankless task. Obviously whales and penguins are two different species. But the wickets get stickier, Red deer versus elk? Grizzly bear versus European brown bear? One of the criteria that biologists use to classify a separate species is the animal's inability to hybridize - to reproduce with other species. But even that criterion doesnŐt always hold up. Reproductive isolation is not always absolute between closely related but separate species.
Natural hybrids in the wild between large species of felids are rare, if not unknown. For instance, although there is some difference between the habitat preferences of jaguar and puma, the two often overlap. (Puma inhabit the rainforest less than jaguars do.) Although there is a widespread belief throughout Mexico and South America that puma-jaguar hybrids exist in the wild, biologists have been very slow to confirm the wild hybrid's occurrence, and I have not been able to substantiate one. However, in contrast to the lack of recognized wild hybrids, large felids of different species in captivity are known to mate and produce offspring. Under zoo conditions, individuals of one species can become accustomed to members of another species that they would either avoid in the wild or never come into contact with due to differences in range. The best-known hybrids are between lions and tigers, resulting in a 'tiglon' from a male tiger and a lioness, and a 'liger' from a male lion and a tigress.
Generally matings between different species do not produce live young because of genetic differences. If live young are produced, they are seldom fertile at maturity, and are thus unable to have offspring of their own. However, the big cats are remarkable for the degree to which they can successfully interbreed with each other in captivity. Live young have been produced from the crossing of lion with tiger, lion with leopard, and jaguar with leopard.
The appearances of these hybrids vary. The lion-tiger hybrids are usually very large animals, generally somewhat larger than normal lions or tigers. The background color of the coat is tawny and lion-like but usually more intense in color, and is overlaid with dark brown stripes. These stripes are more open and broken than in a typical tiger, and they sometimes form rosettes, The offspring of a lion-leopard cross is also usually large, almost the size of a normal lion, with body proportions more like those of a lion than a leopard. Often such crosses have a lion mane and tail tuft, but have the black rosettes and spots that are typical of a leopard. In addition to the hybrids between the more closely related pantherine cats, there have also been crosses between the more distantly related non-pantherine puma and the leopard. The resulting hybrid's pelage is typically puma like in color, but leopard like in its pattern of dark brown rosettes.
Although hybrid offspring of various species are generally infertile, Helmut Hemmer has reported that some hybrid females are fertile, thus making possible crosses between the hybrid and one parental species. Additional breeding of such fertile hybrids may enable researchers to answer various genetic questions about some of the big cat species.
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