HAIKOU, Nov. 21 (Xinhua) -- Four ligers, a rare lion-tiger hybrid, were born several weeks ago in a wildlife park in China's southernmost island province of Hainan, a park official said Wednesday.
The cubs were born in the Tropical Wildlife Park of Hainan on Sept. 15, but one died of "genetic defects" a week later, according to Liu Mingjiang, director of the park's Animal Breeding Department.
"The other three are in good condition. They were allowed to be visited by tourists starting Tuesday," Liu said.
The newborns are the offspring of mother Huan Huan, a seven-year-old Northeast China tigress, and father Xiao Er Hei, a six-year-old African lion.
"Our staff members have not gone close to them for reasons of their health and safety, so we're not clear about their weight right now," Liu said.
The newborns have not been named, he added.
Huan Huan has given birth to 12 ligers in five deliveries since2004, and 10 of them have survived, a world record, Liu said.
The mother delivered her first liger, Zao Zao, on June 29, 2004,but it died 50 hours later.
Twin ligers Ping Ping and An An, a male and a female, were delivered by Huan Huan on May 2, 2005. They are now the oldest surviving ligers in China.
Later that year, on Sept. 10, Huan Huan gave birth to David.
On March 23 last year, Huan Huan delivered her first set of quadruplet ligers.
"The liger family of Xiao Er Hei and Huan Huan is now one of the largest of its kind in the world," Liu said.
Ligers are the product of crossbreeding between a male lion anda female tiger, having features of both but generally being larger than either.
"The liger is the world's largest big cat. An average male liger weighs over 900 pounds and stands almost 12 feet tall," according to the website www.tigerfriends.com.
"If the situation was reversed and the mother was a lion and the father was a tiger, the offspring would be called a tigon, and it would be a dwarf instead of a giant," according to the website.
China's first tiger-lion hybrid cub, or tigon, was born at Hongshan Zoo in Nanjing, capital of eastern Jiangsu Province, in 2002. It died a week later.
Also in 2002, a liger was born in Fuzhou, capital of southeastern Fujian Province. It lived for more than 100 days.
No official statistics are available on the exact number of ligers and tigons living in China or in the world, but zoologists believe the number is very small.
The first known liger cubs were born in 1823 in England, according to www.wisegeek.com. However, some people believe that the first liger was born around 250 years to 300 years ago in India. This liger is believed to have been mysterious origins.