Ligers and Zebroids and Yow, Oh My!

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Illustration by Lizzie Harper

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You know the Pugle, the Labradoodle, and Yorkiepoo. We love our designer breeds, and they’re so cute, so why argue? Some hybrids, like Ligers and Zebroids and Yow, are different. Let me tell you why. 

Ligers are the Franken-feline achieved by crossing a lion and a tiger. Ligers are always sterile. Zebroids, Zebras crossed with other species, are also almost always infertile, and often suffer health consequences of dwarfism. While the dwarf zebroids can still run, ligers suffer from acromegaly, or "giantism" and grow too big. Giantism causes their hearts to give out, like Beloved Andre the Giant, because their organs literally can’t handle the weight. Then there are the Camas, the odd concoction created by the effortful crossing of a Camel and a llama. (Effortful because, well.. picture it.) You could guess its a tough match. The goal is a big llama with a great fur, scientific director Lulu Skidmore says. Of the few camas bred so far, all have been infertile. Some things are not working here. 

These stories are common, and science is replete with references. Its usually the case that crossing different species proves to be a dangerous project. In all cases it leads to some offspring with illness, decreased stress tolerance, infertility, and poor offspring viability. At worst, it causes a frighting, debilitating mutation. The only solution is aggressive culling (that means killing the undesirable mistakes). Why do we risk the negative unintended effects of cross-species breeding? Exploiting the potential benefits, our greed, our love of novelty, is all too much to resist? Perhaps. 

So wait.. what about the charming Pugle, the Labradoodle, and cuddly Yorkiepoo? These are great pups and turn into tasty little, thriving fluffenutters. Labs Irish setter and terriers are wonderful family friends. They’re not infertile or deformed. What gives? These are crosses of breeds, not different species - and that can make all the difference. 

How did the Zubron kill the European Bison?

The zubron is a cross between a cow and wisent. Sounds like a tricky cross, but WTH is a wisent? They are wild European bison that are now are extinct. In the 50’s everyone was excited about this hybrids potential durability and resistance to disease, and they wanted the zubron to replace normal cows as a hardy and cheap alternative to cattle. But scientists couldn’t get a fertile zubon for another 20 years. In the meantime, conservation of the Bison screeched to a halt. Now were trying to reintroduce the wisent from a tiny captive population.