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When a male lion mates with a female tiger, the pair's hybrid offspring is known as a liger. Though lions and tigers would rarely, if ever, mate in the wild, such encounters have occasionally happened in captivity. The first liger cubs known to exist were born in 1823 in England; the cubs' parents shared a den at an exhibit and frequently mated. Today, the breed can be found in numerous zoos and animal sanctuaries throughout the world.
The liger is generally bigger than either a lion or a tiger; in some cases, it can be twice as large as a lion. The liger is the largest of any cat breed, and has a unique coat that is gold like a lion's, but striped, like a tiger's. While the male animal is known to be sterile, females are able to reproduce with lions or with tigers.
Tippi Hedren, a former actress, now runs an animal sanctuary where a liger is kept. She claims that the liger has inherited the best attributes of both lions and tigers. Like tigers, the liger enjoys being immersed in water; like lions, they are very sociable animals.
Most ligers live in animal sanctuaries like Hedren's; accredited zoos do not approve of intentionally breeding lions and tigers together, though several accidental offspring have been born at zoos around the world. Ligers have a propensity for health problems; out of 24 cubs born at a wildlife park, three have had neurological problems.
The liger became a popular culture reference in 2004, when the title character in the film Napoleon Dynamite called the liger his favorite animal. Since that time, many people have gone to zoos and animal sanctuaries around the world to see a liger firsthand. Australia's Canberra Zoo had a liger on display for several years, but the animal died in 2006. However, ligers can still be found at Wild Animal Safari in Georgia, Tippi Hedren's Shambala Preserve in California, and Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary in South Dakota.
Offspring can also result from a female lion and a male tiger; this cross breed is known as a tigon, and is significantly smaller than the liger.