for National Geographic News
Photo Gallery: "Dynamite" Pictures of Ligers >>
It's half lion, half tiger, and completely real. Now thanks to a cameo in the 2004 cult movie Napoleon Dynamite, the liger has leaped into the limelight, prompting fans to ask, What are they really like?
The faintly striped, shaggy-maned creatures are the offspring of male lions and female tigers, which gives them the ability to both roar like lions and chuff like tigersa supposedly affectionate sound that falls somewhere between a purr and a raspberry.
Weighing in at about a thousand pounds (450 kilograms) each, they typically devour 50 pounds (23 kilograms) of raw meat in a meal.
"For the most part they're really laid back," said Jason Hutcherson, vice president of Wild Animal Safari in Pine Mountain, Georgia. "They like to swim and play in the water."
The drive-through wildlife park is believed to have the country's largest concentration of ligers, housing ten of the massive cats.
Since 1999 the park has bred its male lion and female tiger many times, producing about 24 cubs.
Not all of them have been healthy, though.
"We've had 3 out of 24 that, for all practical purposes, were normal but developed as they grew older some kind of neurological disorder," Hutcherson said.
Autopsies didn't reveal what caused the cubs to develop "head shakes," so park staff "chalked it up to a genetic defect," Hutcherson said.
Accredited zoos frown on the practice of mixing two different species and have never bred ligers, says Jane Ballentine, a spokesperson for the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, based in Silver Spring, Maryland.
"Keeping the two species separate has always been standard procedure," she said.
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