8 Hybrid Animals With Awesome Portmanteau Names

Lucas Adams 
Lucas Adams 

The most famous hybrid animal is the liger—but there are a few crossed creatures you probably didn't know about.

1. WHOLPHINS

Although there are frequent unconfirmed reports of them in the wild, only one pure wholphin is currently confirmed to exist. Her name is Kekaimalu—which means "from the peaceful ocean"—and she's a resident of Sea Life Park, Hawaii. Her parents were quite the odd couple: When staffers placed a 2000-pound false killer whale and a 400-pound Atlantic bottlenose dolphin in the same tank, nobody expected them to mate. Kekaimalu's surprise birth on May 15, 1985 made international headlines.

Another wholphin had previously been bred at Sea World, Tokyo in 1981, but that animal lived just 200 days. Kekaimalu, however, is still going strong. At almost 11 feet in length, she’s more lightly colored than a false killer whale, but darker than a bottlenose. Though her first calf died young, a second calf lived for nine years, and in 2004, Kekaimalu had a healthy daughter by a male dolphin: Kawili ‘Kai, another star attraction at Sea Life Park. 

2. CAMAS

Lucas Adams

In 1999, Dr. Lulu Skidmore and her team at Dubai’s Camel Reproduction Center set out to create an animal that was part Old World camel and part New World llama. The goal was utilitarian: “The main aim was to see if we could get the best of both species,” she said. “We thought [that] the long coat of a llama and the strength of a camel would make for a very useful animal.”

It was soon discovered that their male llamas couldn’t impregnate female camels, and the reverse approach proved anatomically impossible. In the end, Skidmore and her team used artificial insemination to impregnate a female camel. The result was a male cama they dubbed Rama. Since Rama's birth, a few other camas been been born using the same strategy.

3. CATTALO

Lucas Adams

Over the past 200 years, various ranchers have crossed American bison and domestic cows. Among them was Charles Jesse “Buffalo” Jones, a Kansas resident who, in the late 19th century, saw that cattle were ill-equipped for the harsh winters of the Great Plains. Hybrids, he figured, would be more resilient.

Jones started cross-breeding the two species in 1906. He did so on a patch of land that lies near present-day Grand Canyon National Park—where so-called cattalo have become a menace. (Not to be confused with beefalo, another hybrid: Cattalo are hybrids that have a predominately bison appearance, while beefalo are those that are only three-eighths bison.) As park superintendent Dave Uberuaga told the Associated Press, “The massive animals have reduced vegetation in meadows to nubs, traveled into Mexican spotted owl habitat, knocked over walls at American Indian cliff dwellings below the North Rim, defecated in lakes, and left ruts in wetlands.” The local population grows by a whopping 50 percent every year.

4. LEOPONS 

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In Africa, leopards and lions cross paths quite frequently, so a wild-born hybrid is possible—but so far, all documented leopons have been produced in captivity, and the last known leopon specimen died in 1985. The brown-spotted, reddish-yellow creatures were larger than your average leopard—in fact, they were almost as big as lionesses—and had tufted tails. Males, like their leonine ancestors, had beards and manes. Leopons are considered sterile—though, granted, nobody's had the opportunity to try and breed them since the mid-'80s.

5. COYWOLVES

Lucas Adams

If you live in eastern North America, you may have spotted one of these canines. Sometimes called woyotes, they’re a western coyote/eastern grey wolf mix. The hybrid's beginnings trace back to when European settlers first arrived on the continent. The settlers, who viewed the eastern grey wolves as a nuisance, hunted the animals to near-extinction. As the wolf population dwindled, coyotes began moving in from the west to exploit the vacancy. Eventually, they entered one of the wolves’ final strongholds: southern Ontario.

Around 50 to 70 years ago, that area became the coywolf’s probable birthplace. These new creatures have longer legs, bigger paws, stronger snouts, and bushier tails than normal coyotes do. Like wolves, they’re capable of hunting in packs. But while lupines aren’t cut out for cities or suburbs, coywolves have proven quite adaptable and embrace metropolitan lifestyles.

6. ZONKEYS

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Donkey/zebra hybrids are nothing new; Charles Darwin even wrote about them in an 1859 edition of On the Origin of Species. As with mules, zonkeys are born sterile—at least for the most part. Darwin did report on a zonkey that had successfully mated with a mare, thus combining the genes of three equine species. However, nobody has since been able to breed one with anything else (including other zonkeys). Captive zonkeys can currently be found at zoos in Mexico and Italy.

7. YAKOW

Lucas Adams

Another bovine hybrid, yakows (a.k.a. dzo and dzomos) are a common sight in Nepal. Larger and stronger than both yaks and cows, the beasts of burden also release significantly more milk. At high altitudes, yakows are the ideal livestock: They combine a yak’s thin air tolerance with a cow’s relative agility. Farmers have learned that while males cannot successfully reproduce, females can.

8. GROLAR BEARS

Lucas Adams

Thanks to climate change, the native ranges of grizzly and polar bears are increasingly overlapping. The result? An influx of muscular, sand-colored grolar bears. According to Brendan Kelly, a University of Alaska marine biologist, free-roaming specimens are a fairly new phenomenon. “We’ve known for decades that, in captivity, grizzly bears and polar bears will hybridize,” he told PSMag. But there were no confirmed wild grolar sightings until a hunter gunned one down in 2006. Subsequent DNA testing revealed the abnormal heritage of his curious prize.

Grolars tend to have both a grizzly’s hump and a polar bear’s elongated neck. Zoo keepers have noted that captives usually behave more like the great white ursids. When presented with a new toy, they’ll stamp on it with both of their front paws—the very same technique that polar bears use to break open seal dens. And a 2013 study on bears living on Alaska's Admiralty, Baranof, and Chicagof Islands showed that all of the bears were natural hybrids.

All illustrations by Lucas Adams.

Toronto, 'Raccoon Capital of the World,' Is Fighting Its Trash Panda Problem ... and Losing

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iStock

Toronto’s “raccoon-resistant” garbage cans aren’t as effective as city officials hoped. As NPR reports, the self-proclaimed “raccoon capital of the world” has been unable to outwit some of the city’s cleverest "trash pandas."

For years, Torontonians have struggled to contend with the city’s booming raccoon population and its insatiable appetite for old pizza, overripe bananas, and just about everything else that gets thrown out with the trash. In 2016, the city spent CA$31 million (about US$24 million) on waste bins that were specially designed to keep furry scavengers out. To open one up, a rotating handle on the lid must be turned to unhinge a gravity lock. The hope was that raccoons, which lack opposable thumbs, wouldn’t be able to break in.

Cameras cast doubt on that theory. In a heist that would make National Treasure's Nicolas Cage proud, footage uploaded to YouTube by the Toronto Star shows a determined mama raccoon cracking the code to open the lid and get to the good stuff inside.

Even without thumbs, raccoons have nimble paws. On top of that, urban raccoons boast some serious street smarts. One study by raccoon expert Suzanne MacDonald revealed that raccoons knew to avoid busy intersections, and another study found that city raccoons are better than their country counterparts at figuring out how to open garbage can lids.

Research from the early 1900s showed that raccoons could crack 11 out of 13 locks—which included latches, levers, buttons, hooks, and bolts—to open a box with food inside. As for the episode seen above, Toronto officials and an employee from the garbage can company said broken bins are to blame. The faulty bin was replaced, but the camera kept rolling, and footage showed that raccoons were able to knock over and break into the new bin, too.

This time, the bin manufacturer blamed the breach on a faulty handle. On the bright side, the city reported that these break-ins aren’t widespread. Out of nearly 500,000 bins, only 24 raccoon-related problems were reported.

MacDonald has been tracking whether the city’s “very fat” raccoons have lost any weight since the new bins have been rolled out. While the results aren't yet conclusive, “they’re not starving to death, that’s for sure,” she told Toronto Star reporter Amy Dempsey.

[h/t NPR]

How You Can Help Animals Affected by Hurricane Florence

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iStock

If you've ever considered rescuing a pet, now's the time to take the plunge: You could save an animal's life if you choose to adopt from a shelter in the path of Hurricane Florence.

With the Category 1 storm making landfall over the Carolinas this week, government officials have urged as many as 1.7 million residents to evacuate their homes. As a result, local animal shelters are scrambling to find homes for abandoned pets before the worst of the storm hits, and if they aren't able to place them in time, some animals will have to be euthanized.

That makes now the perfect time to adopt a pet if you're in the position to do so. Some shelters, like the Pender County Animal Shelter in Burgaw, North Carolina, have even waived their adoption fees in an effort to encourage more people to take pets home.

If you can't make a commitment to owning a pet at this time, fostering is also an option. Most shelters in the storm path will gladly place pets with someone who can give a dog or cat shelter until it's safe for them to return to the area. And if that's still not a possibility for you, you can help shelters by making a monetary donation. Transporting pets and making sure they're spayed, neutered, and vaccinated costs money, and shelters can use donations to help more pets get out the door and into safe homes.

The Charleston Animal Society, the Greenville Humane Society, the Humane Society of Charlotte, and the Pender County Animal Shelter are just a handful of animal shelters in need of assistance. You can also look at specific requests for support local shelters have made through this website.

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