Lions and tigers: Newborn liger on the prowl at Tiger World

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Kathy Chaffin
ROCKWELL ó About seven weeks ago ó just two weeks before Lily the tiger was scheduled for a tubal ligation ó she gave birth to a liger.
That’s right ó a half tiger, half lion resulting from Lily’s cohabitation with Fozzy, a male lion.
“We were all surprised,” said Lea Jaunakais, owner of Tiger World. Most tigers don’t give birth until age 4 or 5, she said, and Lily was only 3. Sadly though, Lily rejected her newborn after one day. That’s not uncommon for first-time tiger mothers, Jaunakais said.
But the cub ó which the Tiger World staff named Lil’ Wayne ó has not suffered for lack of affection. The staff at Tiger World has showered him with love.
Charlotte Cook, the volunteer manager at the nonprofit exotic animal conservation center, is particularly partial to Lil’ Wayne, who likes to follow her around. She brags regularly about how bright he is.
When he’s older and bigger, 16-pound Lil’ Wayne will join Tiger World’s other liger, Radar, in a large enclosure at the entrance to Tiger World. Radar is new to the center, located off N.C. 152, having come from an animal sanctuary in Florida.
Jaunakais was on her way back from picking up Radar from his previous owners when Tiger World staff members asked via cell phone what he looked like. In describing the 4-1/2-month-old cub, Jaunakais told them he had really big ears. “They look like radar antennae,” she said. The name stuck.
The 40-pound cub seems to have adapted well to his new surroundings. “He’s really, really friendly,” she said. “He likes the interaction with the handlers, and we’ve been working and training him to walk on lead.”
Tiger World staff reward Radar with chunks of meat during training and feed him a special milk formula three times a day from a bottle. He finishes off a bottle in just over a minute, and indicates clearly and loudly ó in liger sounds ó his desire for more.
Jaunakais said ligers make both lion and tiger vocalizations, including the lion’s “Oh-om” moan-like growl and the tiger’s sneeze-like “chuff.” When it comes to water, she said they swim like tigers, while lions avoid the water.
Radar has the ears and nose and dark eyes of a lion. His coat is tawny like a lion’s with diffused tiger-like stripes.
Ligers are the largest and among the most rare of big cats in the world. Some of them are born without the gene limiting growth, Jaunakais said, “and they literally become the size of both their parents combined.”
Lions can weigh up to 500 pounds and tigers can reach 600 pounds. But Jaunakais said ligers can weigh more than 1,000 pounds. The largest liger on record was just under 1,200 pounds.
It’s impossible to tell if Lil’ Wayne and Radar are missing the gene limiting their growth, she said. “It’s just a matter of time.”
All liger males and some liger females are born sterile. Jaunakais said a female will occasionally give birth after mating with a lion or a tiger. Because of their rarity, ligers have been the favorites of kings throughout history.
Radar currently shares an enclosure with a female white Bengal tiger cub named Pandora and a female lion cub named Sarabi, both around 14 weeks old. They will be leaving Tiger World soon for Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde, Ariz.
Though they’re favorites of Tiger World visitors, Jaunakais said they have the opportunity to be a part of the Out of Africa Tiger Splash attraction, where they will swim with trainers. The park is spread out over 109 acres, she said, and Pandora and Sarabi will live in a 3-to-5-acre enclosure.
Jaunakais, whose family lives in Arizona, said she plans to visit them as often as she can.
Tiger World, located outside of Rockwell, is open to the public for educational, guided tours that allow visitors to see the animals interact with handlers and run, play, swim and eat.
For information on tours and rates, call 704-279-6363 or log onto