A tigon is the offspring of a male tiger and a female lion (lioness). This beautiful hybrid has many of the characteristics of both parents. Often it has a striped appearance on a tawny colored background, much like it's mother. Unlike it's related cousins the liger (cross between a male lion and a female tiger) this hybrid is often smaller then it's parents, but can reach the size of it's smallest parent. Many of their individual characteristics depend on what type of subspecies it's parents belong to.
This type of hybrid breeding between large cats has been doing on since at least the mid 1800's. In many cases these animals were sought after because of their great attraction to the public. Currently the tigon is more rare then the liger, this is believed to be because of the ligers size (being the largest cat in the world) appealing more to those who are willing and able to experiment with these animals.
The Tigon is known to be a calm animal who often displays the best personality characteristics of it's parents. They usually like water and are gentle beasts. Though many people who work with them tell of confusion on the part of the animal. It is as if the two parts of the animal battle for which will be the resulting behavior (a trait seen with other hybrids such as wolf dogs). This can be hard for the animal, and the trainer alike.
Many of these hybrids were created on accident. It was not believed that they could produce offspring, and often tigers and lionesses were housed together. This brought about accidental breeding and production of tigons. This doesn't occur as often as ligers because tigers are often confused by lionesses mating rituals, however it still does occur.
Additionally, li-tigons (lions mating with female tigons) and ti-tigons (tigers mating with female tigons) have happened on accident in a number of cases. This is due to the myth that tigons were infertile. Male tigons are infertile (though it is believed that this wouldn't be true in all cases, such as the rare case of mules breeding and producing offspring). At the same time most female tigons are not infertile and can easily breed with lions and/or tigers producing li-tigons or ti-tigons. Each of these hybrid cats primarily display the characteristics of their fathers (being 75% of that type of cat).
Instances of these hybrid cats have gone down in recent years. This is due to the fact that most zoos have changed in nature, no longer seeking to make a profit showing wilder and crazier animals to the public, but rather trying to educate and preserve the animals that occur in nature. Additionally, laws have come into play in many countries restricting breeding of hybrids as well as private ownership of wild and exotic animals.
Lions and Tigers, oh my.