The liger is a hybrid cross between a male lion (Panthera leo) and a tigress (Panthera tigris). Thus, it has parents with the same genus but of different species. It is distinct from the similar hybrid tiglon. It is the largest of all known extant felines.
Ligers enjoy swimming, which is a characteristic of tigers, and are very sociable like lions. Ligers exist only in captivity because the habitats of the parental species do not overlap in the wild. Historically, when the Asiatic Lion was prolific, the territories of lions and tigers did overlap and there are legends of ligers existing in the wild. Notably, ligers typically grow larger than either parent species, unlike tiglons which tend to be about as large as a female tiger.
The history of ligers dates to at least the early 19th century in, India Asia. In 1798, Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (1772–1844) made a colour plate of the offspring of a lion and a tiger.
In 1825, G. B. Whittaker made an engraving of liger cubs born in 1824. The parents and their three liger offspring are also depicted with their trainer in a 19th century painting in the naive style.
Two liger cubs born in 1837 were exhibited to King William IV and to his successor Queen Victoria. On 14 December 1900 and on 31 May 1901, Carl Hagenbeck wrote to zoologist James Cossar Ewart with details and photographs of ligers born at the Hagenbeck’s Tierpark in Hamburg in 1897.
In 1935, four ligers from two litters were reared in the Zoological Gardens of Bloemfontein, South Africa. Three of them, a male and two females, were still living in 1953. The male weighed 340 kg (750 lb) and stood a foot and a half (45 cm) taller than a full grown male lion at the shoulder.