In my previous ShukerNature blog article (click here), I drew attention to a very remarkable, and extremely sizeable, feline hybrid – Cubanacan the litigon, the result of a successful mating between a lion and a tigon (tiger x lioness hybrid), who was formerly exhibited at Alipore Zoo in Kolkata, India. Now, here is another truly extraordinary episode appertaining to big cat crossbreeding.
It began just over a century ago - with the arrival at London Zoo in 1908 of a singularly mysterious felid that resembled a slim, gracile lioness but was elegantly dappled with large brown rosettes recalling those of the Himalayan snow leopard Uncia uncia! Its owner was J.D. Hamlyn, a London-based animal dealer, who asserted that it had been captured in the Congolese jungles and represented a wholly new species (dubbed a Congolese spotted lion) - a statement that naturally attracted a great deal of media publicity. It was even portrayed in a beautiful drawing prepared by English zoological artist Frederick W. Frohawk, which opens this present ShukerNature article.
However, London Zoo's superintendent, cat expert Reginald I. Pocock, was sceptical of such grandiose claims, and dismissed this feline enigma as a leopard x lion hybrid (leopon), after which it was removed from London to Glasgow. Tragically, it died just a few years later - reputedly killed by a lion that broke through into its cage from a neighbouring enclosure - and was later exhibited as a mounted taxiderm specimen in standing pose (very closely resembling its pose in Frohawk's drawing) at France's National Museum of Natural History in Paris.
Reginald I. Pocock, a legendary name in British zoology (Wikipedia - reproduced here on a strictly educational, non-commercial Fair Use basis only)
By the early 1930s, the full history of this controversial cat had finally been uncovered, and its extraordinary identity was at last exposed. At the turn of the century a male jaguar had mated with a leopardess at Chicago Zoo, the result of which was a litter of three jagupards (aka jaguleps), one male and two females. All three were later sold to a travelling menagerie, but whereas the male was killed by a lion his two sisters grew to adulthood, and both of them mated with a lion. Remarkably, these matings were viable, yielding several cubs - and it was one of these that found its way to London Zoo, deceitfully billed as a new species.
Bearing in mind that this amazing animal was the complex product of genetic intermingling between three different species of big cat - lion Panthera leo, leopard P. pardus, and jaguar P. onca - it is little wonder that it seemed so exotic in appearance and engendered such confusion. After all, it isn't every day that a lijagupard (aka lijagulep) turns up in London - or anywhere else, for that matter!
This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted from my book Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery, which contains detailed histories of a wide range of feline hybrids, including ligers and tigons, litigons, liligers, and titigers, leopons and lipards, jaglions, pumapards, jagupards, and many others too.