Early reports:

In the early 1900s there were reports out of Chicago of a 'Congolese Spotted Lion'. This later proved to be the result of breeding the hybrid offspring of a leopard and jaguar (usually referred to as a jagulep) with a lion, to produce a lijagulep. The image displayed above is sometimes claimed to be the Congolese Spotted Lion, but it is actually a 1960s photograph of a mature Japanese leopon, probably Leokichi.

Japanese zoos:

Leopons are quite well-known, with most being bred within Japanese facilities. Italy has also done some experiments in this area and Hagenbeck recorded a German menagerie producing leopons, none of which survived to maturity.

The most famous leopon breedings, and the subject of several out of print books, occurred at Koshien Hanshin Park in Nishinomiya City, Japan. Authorities allowed a leopard to mate with a lioness. The lioness adopted a position on her side which enabled the leopard to mount her. Despite their considerable size difference the pair managed to overcome the difficulties and produce offspring. Two litters and five cubs eventuated.

Leopon cubs:

The cubs had the characteristics of both species:

  • They were liberally spotted like a leopard, but the spots were brown, rather than black.
  • Their tails were tufted.
  • They were excellent climbers, scaling trees and the chain link of their cage. This leopard trait caused some minor difficulties for the terrestrial lioness.
  • The male cubs produced a small mane in adulthood, but nothing to rival that of the African lion. 
  • Water was loved by the cubs, but bathing was distinctly limited by the primitive cage designs of the time.

As a side note, in normal circumstances leopards are excellent swimmers and gladly take to the water, but lions avoid becoming immersed if they possibly can. The situation here was reversed with  Sonoko (the lioness) not objecting to water, but Kaneo (the leopard) distinctly disliking it.

After the births the leopard remained with the group, somewhat unusual for a big cat that is usually solitary apart from times of mating. However, captivity has not only produced some unusual hybridisations, but has also forced cats to adjust from a solitary lifestyle to a more social one.

The most famous leopon book was written by Dr. Hiroyuki Doi and Barbara Reynolds. Dr. Hiroyuki Doi was the director at Koshien Hanshin Park

Photography Copyright Koshien Hanshin Park
 © All Rights Reserved. Displayed here with permission, for educational, non-profit purposes.

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