The Hybrid Zoo

20 Dec

At first, Dr. Wayne West held the idea that his life dream and ambition had come true for him. He had been hired to serve as the zoological director of a new kind of animal shelter and exhibition, one that had never before been organized on the entire Continent of this portion of the planet. His responsibility was to be the breeding of hybrid animals for display before the metropolitan public in its many millions. But the genetic pioneer had suddenly come to realize that his job was not going to be the personal delight that he had once imagined it would turn out to be.

Wayne now clearly saw that the Zoo administrator, Barlow Bean, did not have the same view of the future of their institution that he himself was driven by.

As he walked toward the main office where he had his periodic meetings with the head of the zoo, the genetic breeder glanced at several of the display chambers where he saw several of the hybrid animals that he had brought to life through his scientific skills. There was a zorse, a product of the genes of a male zebra and a female horse. He was the one who had planned, designed, and brought the hybrid to birth by artificial insemination. It remained a difficult task to keep the white-and-black striped beast alive and in some degree of health. Wayne continuously learned more important details about the properties of such creatures who could not start a new species but were condemned to their one and only generation. They had to be reproduced endlessly by the arts of the geneticist.

Wayne entered the office of Barlow Bean without announcement or ceremony, finding the short, obese administrator reading the morning metropolitan gazette. “Sit down, Dr. West, there is something I want to tell you about.”

The zoologist did as he was told, waiting for his employer to begin.

“We are not making any important news in recent times,” gruffly said Barlow, “That is a disappointment, because attendance and receipts happen to be in a severe slide downward.” He frowned, then continued. “It has been over a year since we could boast of a spectacularly new hybrid here at the zoo. Why is it that you are letting us fall so far behind all the competing attractions that drawn public interest? Why are we losing out to less serious places like amusement parks and marine tanks? That should not be so, Wayne.”

The latter attempted to smile. “That may be only a temporary condition, sir. I have been working for a considerable time on a serious genetic breakthrough, but it is difficult and time-consuming. But I believe that I am close to the realization of an important, unprecedented development. As you know, sir, my life work has been concentrated on lion-tiger hybridization and combination. That has been my personal passion ever since I began to study animal genetics.

“My earliest research work during my university education was in that particular specialty. Both the tiger and the lion have fascinated and intrigued me. My first successful breeding was in the production of a liger by artificial means: from the sperm of a lion and the egg of a tiger. My joy at this victory was exalting.

“My doctoral dissertation concerned an improved method of placing tiger sperm into the egg of a lioness. This innovation on my part is still the preferred method in that variety of hybridization.”

Barlow made a very sour grimace. “I know that you are a skilled, innovative breeder, Wayne. There can be no doubt about that. But the crying need that I have at the present time is for some spectacular hybrid that with grab the interest of the fickle public and bring it pouring into this zoo. That is what you must give us, without unnecessary delay. Time is of the essence in our business, my friend.”

Wayne stared into his boss’s steel gray eyes.

“I promise to work with speed, sir,” he solemnly said.

There seemed to be many sickly hybrids that were vulnerable to contagious diseases, the zoologist had discovered from the moment he had arrived to work at this special animal reserve.

He had to deal with an unidentified high fever in one of the camas that took its genetic inheritance from a male camel and a female llama.

It was a common experience for Wayne to have to treat a condition not described in the standard texts on animal ailments. He had to act on the basis of hunch or intuition in many of the cases that came up.

Everything that happens to the hybrids seems to be touched with the unexpected, the zoologist had learned early in his career.

The best that he could do for the suffering cama was to inject it with a general antiviral compound that was effective with many of the animals under his care. As he finished this difficult task, the zoo’s pharmacist entered the stable where the cama was being kept.

Wayne looked over and greeted the young man named Steve Simons. There were important matters he had to discuss with him.

“Steve, I’m glad to see you, because there is going to be a lot of pressure on all of us for rapid results. I talked with the chief and he insists that we are running behind schedule, at least the one that he has created for the zoo. When will we have some new hybrid attraction that will once again draw in crowds of the curious? That’s what Barlow Bean is losing sleep over.”

Tall, muscular Steve made an upward gesture with his shoulders. “At least the man is not commanding us what short of combination we have to put together. But I take it that he demands that it be something sensational enough to attract the ever-changing interest of the general populus.”

“You are correct on that,” admitted Wayne. “Whatever we offer, it must not be anything ordinary.”

Steve, thinking hard, looked down at the cama lying on the ground. “Your work for many months has focused on the lion-tiger combination. That is not, of course, an easy area for genetic experimentation.”

“It is impossible to foresee what new characteristics will emerge from the combination of genes from two such complex streams joined together in a hybrid. There often exist so-called imprinted genes that carry things that have never been expressed in the particular parent carrying them. These can then appear as a surprise trait in the newly created individual animal. For instance, a gene in the males of a species may have that specific gene countered and made recessive by a gene of the female of that same species.

“But that will not be so in a case of hybridization. A female of another species with which the male mates may lack that particular counteracting female gene, allowing the recessive gene to surface in the new hybrid.”

“That occurs without being planned or predicted?” asked Steve, fascinated by what he was being told.

Wayne grinned. “That is how I explain the surprising size and weight of the ligers I have bred. They grow larger than either of their parents, the male lion or the female tiger. They become giants who reach up to 900 lbs. That is logically the only explanation for their startling dimensions.”

“There is a lot that is still unknown in the field of genetic zoology,” said Steve with a deep sigh.

Barlow Bean leaned back in his desk chair, his eyes of steel focused on his stubborn zoologist. “Have you always had this preoccupation with hybrids of lions and tigers?” he unexpectedly asked his subordinate.

“Not at all,” replied Wayne. “Before I came here to work, I was involved with programs at the Zebra Institute. We dealt with donkey hybrids such as the zeedonk and the zonkey. I specifically had experience with the zebra-pony combination, called the zony.

“In my studies back at the University, I participated in a blynx program that originated with a male bobcat and a female lynx. And I took a course that centered on the pumpard hybrid between a puma and a leopard.

“I never suffered any kind of obsession with the lion and tiger hybrids, as you seem to be implying, sir.” He gazed back at his boss with fire in his reddish brown eyes.

Silence extended for a brief time between the two uncomfortable individuals eyeing each other.

“I think that we have gone far enough in that particular field of hybridization,” finally said Barlow in a distant tone. “You now have an entire small herd of those fat litigons that come from a male lion and a female tigon. We have our own tigons that have tiger fathers and lioness mothers. It becomes very complicated after awhile, and I do not believe that our visitors from the general public appreciate all the fine details and distinctions that are involved at our hybrid zoo.

“You must end this concentration on one type of development and ignoring of more promising areas for innovative combinations. I am ordering you to go no further with those specific lines, Dr. West.”

The latter picked up the dry hardness in the voice of the other.

Making no verbal reply at all, Wayne bolted to his feet and quickly made an exit from the office in silence.

What is there left that can be done in time to produce the innovation that this zoo needs? the zoologist asked himself over and over again through a sleepless night of thought and worry.

When Wayne entered the breeding section early the following morning, he found Steve Simons waiting for him in a highly excited condition evident in his face and hurried words.

“Something unforeseen happened last night. It was a thing that nobody in their wildest dream could have imagined. I am still shaken by what came about last night sometime in the field behind this building. Let me explain.

“I often leave a few of the animals with minor illnesses out in the open, hoping that the cool, fresh air at night will help them to recover faster and improve their senses. What could not have been anticipated actually occurred between two of our animal patients. As a result of what this pair did together, we had a case of unplanned, unintended mating between two different animal species, one of them a hybrid and the other one not.”

As Steve paused to catch his breath, Wayne formulated and presented him a question.

“What did this mating pair consist of? It is important that I know so that we can determine what has to be done.”

The tall, athletic assistant lowered his head and looked away.

“I am certain that the aggressor was a pure male tiger and the female attacked was one of our ligresses. The latter is extremely fat and was unable to escape or defend itself. I cannot guess what sort of being their progeny might turn out to be.”

Wayne made some quick calculations in his head.

“The ligress is a hybrid that results from a male lion and female tiger, the counterpart of a male liliger. We must wait, then, to find out the nature of this unplanned combination that came about by accident last evening.”

“What name should we give to this new hybrid?” inquired the still worried and shaken Steve.

Wayne considered for several moments. “Let us call it, when it is born, a tiliger. That sounds accurate and appropriate in my estimation. We will have to keep our eyes on the new mother and provide her with continual care, night and day. The future of our zoo will depend on what may come about now.” He considered for several seconds. “I believe that our administrator, Mr. Bean, must be informed about this immediately. It could have a great influence on what he decides to do in the days ahead.”

Before Steve realized what had happened, the zoologist had left and started on his way to the main office of the zoo.

Wayne slammed the door behind him once he was in the private office of the director, Barlow Bean.

The latter looked up from what he was reading, shock and surprise on his face, a question in his gray, steel-like eyes. “What is it?” he said as soon as he recognized who the intruder was.

“I believe that we now have the solution to the problem of declining public interest and attendance, sir. There will soon be a new resident in the zoo, a hybrid that I have this morning labeled as a tilliger.”

“A what?” inquired Barlow with unconcealed irritation and ire.

The zoologist then proceeded to give the executive head of the zoo a quick definition and description of the tiliger, being careful not to reveal the method of its conception.

Barlow creased his brow with a growing number of frown lines.

“What you tell me is interesting,” said the man in charge of the hybrid institution, “but as of this morning it has become completely irrelevant. There has been a breakthrough at the Genetic Animal Center that will guarantee it primacy over all other zoos here in our planet. The news was released earlier, in the first edition of the day’s metropolitan gazette. I take it that you have not read or heard of it before you barged into my private office a couple of minutes ago.”

The manager picked up a flimsy sheet from the top of his desk and offered it to Wayne, who took it with shaking hands and absorbed the information at the top of the first page of type.

A never-before existing hybrid now existed, a creation of the genetic laboratory of the research arm of the Animal Center, the largest and leading zoological institution that operated in the world.

The new creature was given the name of Lijagulep, its male genes those of a lion and its mother a Jagulep (or Lepjag).

“The mother, as I understand it,” explained Barlow Bean, “was a combination of a jaguar and a leopard. The cub that was born at the lab is an irregularly spotted hybrid lion that never existed before in any form. This will now be the star attraction in all the many zoos that are fortunate enough to get hold of one of them in the future.”

In the silent moments that followed, Wayne turned about and left the room without saying anything more.

I most now find Steve and tell him of this enormous defeat that we have suffered.

Our tiliger is not exotic or novel enough to compete with this unforeseen rival, the strange hybrid that will be called the Lijagulep.

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