A leopon is a hybrid offspring of a male leopard and a female lion. The head of the species is identical to that of the lion, while the rest of the body has similarities to the leopards.
These hybrids majorly occur in captivity and are not likely to occur in the wild.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Carnivora
- Suborder: Feliformia
- Family: Felidae
- Subfamily: Pantherinae
- Genus: Panthera
- Species: P. Pardus♂ × P. Leo♀
The first known leopard was produced in Kolhapur, India, in 1859. His skin was sent to Reginald Innes Pocock by Walter Samuel Millard, Secretary of the Bombay Natural History Society. It was a cross between a big leopard and a lion.
Two cubs were born, one of whom died at 2.5 months of age, and the other was still alive when Pocock described it in 1912.
Pocock wrote that it was spotted like a leopard, except that the markings on its sides were smaller and closer than those of an Indian leopard, and that they were brown and indistinct, like the fading spots of a young lion.
The spots on the back, spine, abdomen and legs were black and distinct. The tail was spotted on the top and striped below, and had a blackish tip with longer hairs.
The underside was dirty white, the ears were fawn and had a large black bar, but the white spot was not present in the leopards.
Pocock wrote that the nearest he had ever seen to this form of the hybrid was the lijagulep (or Congolese spotted lion) bred in Chicago.
Based on data from Japanese cats (at the Nishinomiya City Zoo), leopons are larger than leopards and combine leopard and lioness characteristics.
They’ve got brown, not black, spots and tufted tails. They’re going to climb like leopards and seem to enjoy the water, as well as the leopard. Male leopons may have a sparse mane about 20 cm long.
A lot of leopard-lion hybrids have been bred in captivity. Best known are those born in Koshien Hanshin Park in Nishinomiya, Japan in the late fifties and early sixties, one of which has lasted more than twenty years.
This is longer than normal for a leopard (maximum recorded life span of 23 years in captivity) or a lion with an average captive life expectancy of just 13 years.
The workers of Koshien Hanshin wanted to breed lion-leopard hybrids because other zoos concentrated on lion-tiger hybrids.
They started by raising a lion and a male leopard together. Her name was Sonoko and her leopard companion, Kaneo. Both of them were born in 1955.
Their first leopon cubs were born in 1959 after 97 days of gestation—the gestation period of a hybrid is typically intermediate in length to that of their parents (in leopards gestation lasts 90-105 days, and in lions, 105-110 days). Three more were born in 1962, a male and two female.
One of the fascinating things about the leopons is that unlike the lions, they are good climbers. They often love warmth, which sometimes bothers their lioness mothers.
Leopons are large animals almost the size of a lion, with stout bodies, but their legs are shorter, like leopards (Hemmer 1966).
They’ve got brown stripes, paler than the black spots of the leopard, and tufted tails, like a lion. The colour at the base is pale reddish-yellow. The mature males are about 8 inches (20 cm) tall.
While leopards and lions are coming into contact in sub-Saharan Africa, it is generally assumed that a leopard could not occur in a natural state because a leopard would not be able to mate with an undeserved lioness.
However several recorded hybrids of this type were the result of unplanned crosses in captivity. Doi and Reynolds (1967) state that a lioness laid happily and consistently on her side for a leopard to climb (the pair in question were raised together).
However, there are anecdotal accounts of natural hybrids known as Marozis from Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, and Ethiopia.
Apparently, the only strong evidence of hybridization in the wild is the skin (and probable skull) in the British Museum of Natural History, which was filmed in the Aberdare Mountains of Kenya in 1931.
As far as the reciprocal cross is concerned, Florio (1983) reports the case of a lipard which has occurred in Italy. In this particular case, there was a significant disparity in the size of the parents.
The lion’s father weighed 550 pounds (250 kg), while the leopard’s mother weighed just 84 pounds (38 kg), that is, more than six and a half times its size.
Unfortunately for the leopardess, the lion tried to mate at any moment. Another lion-leopard hybrid was born in the Schoenbrunn Zoo, Vienna, in 1951.