Animal hybrids… they’re more common then you think. Whether as a result of natural animal magnetism or through the meddling machinations of Mankind, hybrid creatures prove a little “monkey business” in the animal kingdom can sometimes be a good thing.
#1 – Beefalo
Beefalo, a hybrid of beef cattle and the American Bison, have been hailed as one of the meat industry’s greatest successes. Docile enough for ranching, beefalo provide meat that has more protein and less fat than that of the typical steer. Even better, beefalo beef is very low in cholesteral and is said to taste just as good as classic steak, if not better.
Hybrid buffalo-cattle were first noticed in the mid-nineteenth century and efforts to standardize the hybrids, called at first “cattalo”, gained momentum after tens of thousands of cattle died in the Blizzard of 1888. It took nearly a century, however, to produce fertile and viable beefalo that did not require a herd of buffalo cows to be kept on-hand. The American Beefalo Association, Inc., founded in November of 2008, was now oversees the registration of beefalo in the USA.
#2 – Cama
Camel-Llama hybrids, or “Camas”, appear camel-like in coloration but without the stereotypical camel’s hump. Camas are both viable and fertile – though separated by several million years of evolution, these camelid mammals each have 74 chromosomes. Would you walk a mile for a camel? You might if you were the last llama on earth (or at least, in the general area), but since these animals live oceans apart a little human matchmaking is required to crossbreed them. Not to mention, the use of artificial insemination… dromedary camels weight about 6 times as much as the average llama.
The Camel Reproduction Centre in Dubai has set its sights on making Camas, with the expectation that the hybrids would retain the camel’s desirable size, strength and hardiness while imbuing them with the much more cooperative temperament of the llama. The first Cama, named Rama, was born at the Camel Reproduction Centre on January 14, 1998. Unfortunately, Rama grew up mean, mad and generally uncooperative. Back to the drawing board!
#3 – Cheetoh
Evocative name notwithstanding, the Cheetoh cat has no relation to either Cheetahs or cheese-flavored corn puffs. Instead, this relatively new feline is descended from selected Bengal Cat and Ocicat bloodlines, resulting in an exotically spotted cat with the Ocicat’s long legs and low-shouldered walking style. Cheetohs are larger than average domestic cats with males ranging from 15 to 22 pounds and females topping out at about 15 pounds.
According to The International Cheetoh Breeders Association, “The goal of the Cheetoh breeding program was to create a very intelligent cat that is larger (than domestic cats) with an extraordinary wild look, without adding more wild blood. Most importantly, (the Cheetoh is) an extremely social, docile and gentle-natured lap cat that is safe for all family members.” A 22 pound lap cat? I just can’t weight.
#4 – Geep
Your Prius may be a hybrid but a Geep – Wrangler or not – is actually a chimera. Chimeras are man-made, the result of the fusing of two distinct, very early embryos. The end result is a creature that exhibits a patchwork of traits depending on which embryo’s tissue is dominant.
Actual sheep-goat hybrids are extremely rare: though they may look somewhat similar, sheep and goats are separate species with differing numbers of chromosomes (goats have 60, sheep just 54). A recent sheep-goat hybrid with 57 chromosomes dubbed “The Toast of Botswana” was born in the year 2000. The creature, which had a hairy outer coat and a wooly inner coat, was healthy but had to be castrated due to its overactive libido – rather ironic, because the horny demi-goat was believed to be sterile.
#5 - Grolar Bear
It may look mixed up, but the uncomfortably-named Grolar Bear proves by its mere existence that brown and white can get along. Though not common by any means, these Grizzly-Polar bear hybrids occur from time to time where the range and habitat of these majestic creatures overlaps.
If “Grolar Bear” sounds a little forced, consider the alternative: the Pizzly Bear. Weird name or not, these ursine hybrids demand a whole lot of respect; they are intermediate in size between Grizzlies and Polar Bears – in other words, BIG.
#6 – Liger
The nature of animal hybrids often depends on exactly who the parents are. Take the Liger, for example. Ligers are the offspring of a male lion (Panthera leo) and a tigress (Panthera tigris) while in Tigons, the roles are reversed. Ligers only occur in captive environments as their natural ranges have not overlapped for many centuries. In appearance, Ligers superficially resemble lions though they may display subtle skin and fur mottling and have no manes. They also tend to grow larger than either parent – in fact, ligers are the largest of all the big cats. Lastly, although Napoleon Dynamite says Ligers are pretty much his favorite animal, they are NOT bred for their skills in magic. Gosh!
Now this is one good-looking beast! Unfortunately it’s a creation of photoshop and NOT that of a lion and a tiger. Ligers do indeed combine the traits and characteristics of lions and tigers, just not as clear cut as the whimsical creature above.
#7 - Spider Goat
Spider Goat, Spider Goat, does whatever a… well, you’ve seen that movie but are you ready for actual Spider Goats? Ready or not, here they come – and aren’t they cute? Nevermind the fact that the goats have spider genes that allow the females to excrete spider silk proteins in their milk… I’m afraid to ask how the males excrete it. The resulting spider silk fiber is said to be “more durable than Kevlar, more stretchable than nylon, and stronger than steel.”
In case you were wondering (and you know you were), yes, it is possible to use the same gene-splicing technique to create Spider Pigs. There’s no guarantee, however, that they would be able to walk on ceilings, hide behind clocks or provide us with tasty yet stringy bacon. Watch a short video on Spider Goats here… if you dare:
#8 – Toyger
Toygers are not strictly hybrids but breeders have accessed Bengal Cat bloodlines in order to give these surprisingly striped tabbies a more wild appearance and a “big cat body”. Toygers can trace their lineage back to 1980 when breeder Judy Sudgen noticed that a couple of her tabbies sported unusual and distinctive mackerel markings. Sudgen was able to enhance the markings in subsequent generations after importing a similarly striped tom alleycat from India. Currently, breeders are using advanced computer modeling and imaging techniques to project what an ideal, tiger-like Toyger should look like and that goal is expected to be reached later in 2010.
Toyger cats are rapidly increasing in popularity, perhaps in response to an unstated demand for baby pets that don’t grow up. At their present state of development, Toygers have the ability to turn heads and provoke double-takes from those unfamiliar with the breed, something that in itself many owners find extremely appealing.
#9 – Wholphin
Breeding a whale with a different species of marine mammal would seem to be an impossible task – if not uncomfortable for the breed-ees – but if the whale is one of the smaller types like the False Killer Whale (Pseudorcas) than all bets are off. Such is the case with Kekaimalu, a hybrid of a 2,000 lb. male False Killer Whale and a 400 lb. female Bottlenose Dolphin born in 1985 at Hawaii’s Sea Life Park. Kekaimalu subsequently gave birth to a healthy female “Wholphin” named Kawili Kai in early 2005.
The Wholphins born in Hawaii have 66 teeth, the median between a False Killer Whale’s 44 teeth and a bottlenose dolphin’s 88. As for Kekaimalu, she’s the star of Sea Life Park’s aquatic show and, according to trainer John Oakley, “She’s one of the brightest animals I’ve ever worked with.”
#10 – Zebroids
A zorse is a zorse, of course, of course… except when it’s a zonkey, a zony or a zetland. As you might have guessed, the “z” comes from zebra and all of the aforementioned hybrids display some form of zebra striping. Zebroids typically combine the strength of zebras with the docility of domesticated horses, donkeys and, in at least one special case, a Shetland Pony. Zorses are bred with a purpose, however: they inherit the zebra’s resistance to the Nagana pest disease and are used for tourist treks on and around Mount Kenya.
The above zorse’s strikingly patterned coat resulted from the inherited zebra-striping only being expressed on pigmented areas of the coat. White areas on what would normally be a piebald horse remain white. Zowie!
Do these ten animal hybrids seem a bit too, er, tame? Not to worry, scientists and researchers are moving beyond hybrids and even chimeras in an effort to create “living laboratories”. Examples include pigs with mouse genes whose excrement is less damaging to the environment, and pigs with human – yes, human – genes whose organs could be used in transplants without fear of rejection. “Not to worry,” huh… perhaps I spoke too soon.