Lions, Tigers and Ligers? New Hybrid Hits Pet Market
LOS ANGELES -- The exotic pet trade is a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States and it is dangerously pushing the envelope of responsible pet ownership.
The latest rage for exotic breeders is a hybrid of large cats, like lions and tigers. These hybrids are then sold as pets for up to tens of thousands of dollars.
“(The) pet market is always looking for something different or exotic,” said Martine Colette, founder of Wildlife Way Station, an exotic animal sanctuary.
This can have disastrous consequences, for both the owners and the animals. The results of what happens when these pets are cast-off can be seen at a sanctuary nestled in the hills above Los Angeles.
Wildlife Way Station is now home for Ariana, a 400-pound liger who was formerly a family pet. The hybrid big-cat creation was birthed from a lion and a tiger.
“I am not sure that the very first time it happened it was a designed concept,” said Colette. “I think it was more of an accident, but now they are produced for sale for people who would like to have an exotic animal as a pet.”
But an animal like Ariana could never exist in the wild since lions and tigers do not naturally cohabitate. The only way this happens is if a male lion and female tiger mate in captivity, and the result is a huge, wild cat which cannot live on its own.
“First of all, there’s no normal niche for a ligress,” said Colette of the female version of this hybrid. “And it takes a mother tiger 18 months to two years to teach by example.”
With no chance of ever entering the wild, these hybrids are designed to be kept in private homes or shown for photographic purposes -– until their owners realize the exotic cats are too dangerous to handle.
“They all think that while the cocktail party is going on, there’s going to be this magnificent animal just laying down there, enjoying the company of people, but that’s not true,” said Colette. “It’s going to bite them, it’s going to claw then and in extreme circumstances, it can kill them.”
There are limited restrictions on purchases of large exotic cats with many states in the U.S. allowing people to own exotic animals. More than 15,000 lions and tigers are living in private facilities, right now, but a large number of them are either abandoned or confiscated every year.
Consequently, facilities like Wildlife Way Station are full, leaving the exotic cats with no place to go.
This means the unlucky ones could be sold to camp hunts or shipped to Mexico. For most, the story does not end well.
That’s Colette’s motivation for the continual expansion of her sanctuary. She hopes to never have to turn away an exotic animal.
Ariana, is one of the lucky ones. Her diet is monitored and stabilized, her dentist cares for her teeth and vets vaccinate her.
But most of all, she has people who love her, and provide as she can be under the circumstances.
To cure the urge for owning an exotic animal, like these cats, the Wildlife Way Station has set up a program that allows individuals to sponsor an exotic animal of their fancy.
For more information, visit wildlifewaystation.org
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Robin Wallace, Pet Pulse, contributed to this article.
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