Crouching Liger, Hidden Danger?

With black spots painted over a luscious orange-yellow fur coat, it lazily raises a left paw. One look into its squinty eyes or at its droopy ears is enough to make your heart melt.

A liger.

Napoleon Dynamite would be proud.

Two liger cubs were born in a private Taiwanese zoo Aug. 15, and were confiscated by local officials later that day. The zoo's owner, Huang Kuo-nan, could face a fine of up to $1,600 for illegally crossbreeding protected animal species and violating Taiwan's wildlife conservation law.

Huang, owner of the World Snake King Education Farm in Tainan county, said three cubs were born, but one died almost immediately after birth. The father, an African lion named Simba, lived in the same cage as the mother, a Bengali tiger called Beauty, for more than six years.

"Usually, when a lion and a tiger are kept together, they will for sure attack each other to death," Huang told the British Telegraph newspaper. "But these two have been spending time together since they were small."

Huang said he did not purposely breed the animals but that Simba and Beauty began to mate about three years ago.

"The tigress' pregnancy caught me totally off-guard," Huang said.

Zoo staff must now hand-rear the cubs because the mother rejected them.

Taiwan's first ligers have sparked controversy throughout the island. Various animal rights groups and activists say that breeding hybrids is a total disregard for animal welfare and is, quite simply, not what Mother Nature intended.

"Crossbreeding two protected species is completely against nature," Lin Tai-jing, a researcher for Environmental and Animal Society of Taiwan, told Taiwan News. "We are urging the Council of Agriculture to ... bring Huang to real justice. A fine of [about $1,600] is a mere slap on the wrist."

Huang was accused earlier this month of selling live tigers, bears, tiger bones and bear paws -- believed to have medicinal applications -- which he denied, according to Taiwan News.

Cute, Yet Controversial

While Napoleon Dynamite believed in the 2004 film that ligers were bred for their "skills in magic," animal rights organizations say otherwise.

"Crossbreeding animals are for the zoo's profit," Ashley Fruno, a senior campaigner for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, told ABC News.

"Zoos are in the business of making money, not helping animals, and animal hybrids are ways to attract attention for customers."

Hybrid animals exist mostly in captivity and are the result of human intervention. There are 10 surviving ligers worldwide, according to Apple Daily, a Taipei-based publication.

Adult ligers are the largest cats in the world and resemble lightly striped lions. Hercules, a liger who lives at Jungle Island in Miami, weighs 900 pounds, eats about 100 pounds of meat per day and can stand up to 12 feet tall on his hind legs.

Lions and tigers do not live near each other in the wild. Although ligers are conceived without test tubes, human intervention is necessary. The two felines may mate in captivity and produce either ligers (lion and tigress) or tigons (lioness and tiger). Premature death rates are much higher among crossbred animals, PETA's Fruno said.

"World Snake King Education Farm should be slapped with 'cruelty to animals' charges," she said. "These poor ligers are now condemned to a life of boredom and confinement, and they will never get to run freely in the wild."

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