Can Siberian and Bengal tigers mate?
Yes, Siberian (Amur) and Bengal tigers can definitely mate. They are two subspecies of tiger. They are very similar. In my mind it is like asking whether a person living in the West can mate with a person living in the East. There's nothing stopping it from a DNA point of view.
Big Cat Rescue states that crossbreeding Bengal tigers with Siberian tigers might increase the odds of producing white cubs.
|North China amur tiger crossed with a Bengal cat as shown in a museum specimen. This image comes from messybeast.com courtesy Sarah Hartwell.|
There is also the issue of mongrel tigers being quite commonplace in zoos and other facilities where tigers are used to entertain customers. They become mongrelised in zoos and circuses. In other words, the tigers are no longer purebred.
The tigers that you see in zoos or circuses are often generic tigers and not a definitive subspecies. That's because they been breeding with each other which makes my point.
The expert on hybrid wild cats is Sarah Hartwell. She mentions a lot of occasions when Bengal tigers and Siberian tigers have mated, and the event has been reported.
For example, she says that three such hybrids were born in Birmingham, USA in 1965. And a person, JM Dolan, reported in 1971 of a viable cub born to a pair of Siberian, Bengal tiger hybrids. And there are other reports of these hybrids in the International Zoo Yearbook for the years 1965, 1967 and 1971.
Hartwell says that hybrids between Siberian and Bengal tigers are "very common as the two subspecies have become extremely mongrelised in circus and menagerie populations". This is especially true through breeding white tigers.
She confirmed that many tigers in safari parks and zoos are a mix of Bengal and Siberian tiger.
There has been a recent attempt to keep captive tigers purebred by conserving gene pools and by separate breeding of the species in reputable zoos and safari parks. They are keeping studbooks (records of lineage).
The issue is that circuses have a different agenda to zoos which profess to be concerned with conservation. Circuses simply want to entertain and therefore they don't mind if their tigers are hybrids and not purebred.
Hartwell states that these two subspecies of tiger, Bengal and Siberian, are often mated to produce white tigers as zoo attractions.
It seems that the gene that creates the white tiger is recessive and therefore they need inbreed the cats. All white tigers are very inbred and some if not many are born with clear congenital, anatomical defects.
This dilution of purebred tigers occurred in 1978 in the Dhudhwa Tiger Reserve in India. A tiger cub (Tara) from the UK's Twycross Zoo was released into the reserve. They didn't realise that Tara was a hybrid from a Bengal x Siberian mating. She escaped into the reserve where she probably bred thereby making all her offspring non-purebred.
In the 1990s some Dhudhwa tigers have the appearance of Siberian tigers which Hartwell states is a "white complexion, pale fur, large head and white stripes".
Briefly touching on evolution, mitochondrial analysis tells us that the Bengal and Siberian tiger species diverged around 80,000-100,000 years ago.