'Surviving Joe Exotic': What are ligers and why are Exotic's hybrids considered unethical?

There are very few ligers in existence — one of the reasons for this is because ligers are likely to die at a very young age due to congenital defects


                            'Surviving Joe Exotic': What are ligers and why are Exotic's hybrids considered unethical?
(Getty Images)

While it may seem like it was long ago, it has only been a handful of months since Netflix's documentary 'Tiger King: Mayhem and Madness' took the country by storm. Chronicling the big cat breeding career of Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage aka Joe Exotic, 'Tiger King' introduced the breeder to a large audience as he soon gained popularity. However, 'Tiger King' received criticism for not documenting Joe Exotic's propensity for animal abuse.

A new documentary by Animal Planet, 'Surviving Joe Exotic' takes care to resolve that by focusing on the animals that were abused on Joe Exotic's Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park aka GW Park. In 2019, Joe Exotic was convicted on 17 federal charges of animal abuse (eight violations of the Lacey Act and nine of the Endangered Species Act)[5] and two counts of murder for hire, for a plot to kill Big Cat Rescue CEO, Carole Baskin. He is serving a 22-year sentence in federal prison. 

In interview footage of the breeder, we see him mention "ligers" — a tiger-lion hybrid that was bred by him. A liger is a result of breeding a male lion with a tigress, whereas another hybrid, a tigon is a result of breeding a male tiger to a lioness. Naturally, tigers and lions do not exist in the wild in the same areas — one exception is the Gir Forest in India, but till today, a naturally bred liger has never been found — the reasons vary but it is likely that because of the different appearances, the two cats are unlikely to mate with each other.

There are very few ligers in existence — one of the reasons for this is because ligers are likely to die at a very young age due to congenital defects. When forced together, the offspring can have multiple health and genetic issues due to their parentage. Ligers have the potential to suffer from gigantism, often leading to organ failure and other health concerns.

Gigantism can occur because male lions have a growth gene that enables their cubs to be bigger, ensuring their offspring will out-compete other cubs of the same litter. When a male lion breeds with a female tiger, her genes do not know how to stop the growth of the cubs, causing the offspring to continue growing. This is also harmful to the female tiger who carries the liger cubs, putting her life in danger as well. Because big cat hybrids are not considered real species, they serve no purpose for conservation efforts. They exist purely for human entertainment.

Many animal rights organizations such as PETA, Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Performing Animal Welfare Society, the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, The Wildcat Sanctuary, Big Cat Rescue, Keepers of the Wild, and Lions, Tigers & Bears submitted a petition for rulemaking to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) detailing how tiger/lion hybrids are bred to suffer "for an exhibitor's quick buck." The asked the USDA to "take proactive steps to curtail the practice by some licensees who purposefully breed tigers and other big cats for deleterious genetic mutations and to create interspecies hybrids."

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