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Tiger versus lion

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Lion and Tiger Fighting by James Ward, 1797

Historically, the comparative merits of the tiger versus the lion have been a popular topic of discussion by hunters, naturalists, artists, and poets, and continue to inspire the popular imagination in the present day.[1][2][3][4] Lions and tigers, in the past, may have competed in the wild, where their ranges overlapped in Eurasia.[5][6][7] The most common reported circumstance of their meeting is in captivity, either deliberately or accidentally.[3][5][8][9][10]

History in captivity[edit]

In the circuses of Ancient Rome, exotic beasts, including lions, at least of the Barbary subspecies,[11][12][13] and tigers[14] were commonly pitted against each other. The contest of the lion against the tiger was a classic pairing and the betting usually favored the tiger.[8] A mosaic in the House of the Faun in Pompeii shows a fight between a lion and a tiger.[15] There are different accounts of which of these animals beat or killed the other, throughout time.[3][16][17] Although lions and tigers can be kept together in harmony in captivity,[18] conflicts between the two species in captivity, ending up in fatalities, have also been recorded.

Tigers defeating or killing lions[edit]

Roman Emperor Titus had Bengal tigers compelled to fight African lions, and the tigers always beat the lions.[19]

A tiger called ‘Gunga’, which belonged to the King of Oude, killed thirty lions, and destroyed another after being transferred to the zoological garden in London.[9]

A British officer who resided many years at Sierra Leone saw many fights between lions and tigers, and the tiger usually won.[20]

Atlas the Barbary lion versus the Bengal tiger of Simla[edit]

Towards the end of the 19th Century, in India, the Gaekwad of Baroda arranged a fight in an amphitheater, between a Barbary lion called ‘Atlas’, from the Atlas Mountains between Algeria and Morocco, and a Bengal tiger from the Indian region of Shimla, both large and hungry (with their diets reduced before the fight), before an audience of thousands, instead of between the Asiatic lion of India, and the tiger, as Asiatic lions were believed to be no match for Bengal tigers. The tiger was more than 10 feet (3.0 metres) long, over 4 feet (1.2 metres) feet at the shoulder, had long teeth and claws, had strong shoulders, and was agile. The lion looked taller at the head than the tiger, and had large legs, mane and paws. The tiger was seen as “the personification of graceful strength and supple energy,” whereas the lion was seen as the “embodiment of massive power and adamantine muscle.”[17] In the fight, both cats sustained injuries, and although the tiger sometimes retreated from Atlas, it would come back to fight it, and in the end, managed to scratch Atlas to death, though Atlas pushed it off in one final move, before dying. The Gaekwad agreed to pay 37,000 rupees, accepted that the tiger was the “King of the Cat Family,” decreed that Atlas’ body be given a Royal burial, and that the tiger should have a “cage of honour” in the menagerie of Baroda, and decided to prepare the tiger for a battle with a Sierran Grizzly bear weighing more than 1,500 lb (680 kilograms). The battle was to happen after the tiger recovered from its wounds.[3][17]

Accidental fights or killings[edit]

In 1857 an 18-month-old tiger at the Bromwich Zoo broke into the cage of an adult lion. The pair fought, and the young tiger ripped the lion's stomach. The lion died minutes later.[21]

At the Coney Island animal show in 1909, a performing lion attacked a chained tiger by leaping through the air, landing on the tiger's back. Though hampered by the heavy neck chain fastened to the iron bars of the arena, the tiger was more than a match for the lion and mangled it to death.[22]

In March 2011, a Bengal tiger at the Ankara Zoo passed through a gap, between its cage and that of a lion, and killed it with a single paw swipe.[23] “The tiger severed the lion’s jugular vein in a single stroke with its paw, leaving the animal dying in a pool of blood,” officials said.

Lions defeating or killing tigers[edit]

There are also reports of lions beating or mauling tigers. For example, there was a filmed fight, organized by an Indian Prince, in a deep pit in the compound of his palace, and the lion killed the tiger, according to Kailash Sankhala (1978).[24] Other cases are discussed or elaborated upon, in the Section "Accidental fights or killings" below, and in "Expert opinions".[10][16][24][25]

Accidental fights or killings[edit]

In 1934, a fully grown African lion killed a mature Bengal tiger a short time after these circus animals were unloaded from the train, before trainers could separate them.[10]

At South Perth Zoo, 1949, in a three-minute fight between a lion and a tiger, the lion killed the tiger. The fight occurred when the tiger put his head through a connecting slide. The lion caught the tiger by the throat, and, dragging it through the opening, killed it before the keepers arrived.[25]

At a Circus in Detroit, in February 1951 a large male African lion called ‘Prince’ suddenly leaped from a high perch and sank its jaws into the back of a Bengal tigress called ‘Sheba’, while she was performing, catching her off-guard. A blank gun was then fired, Prince let Sheba go, and Sheba dragged herself away. Sheba then died an hour later, because of the injuries sustained.[26][27]

In a corporation zoo in Madras, India, in September 1951, an eighteen-year-old tiger called ‘Vikram’ entered the cage of a seven-year-old lion called ‘Leo’, and got into a fight with it. Badly mauled, including in the femur, Vikram retreated into its cage, and despite receiving medical attention, died.[28]

In December 2008, at the zoo in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province, Korea, a 110.0 kg (242.5 pounds) male lion called ‘Cheongi’ killed a 90.0 kg (198.4 pounds) Siberian tigress called ‘Hobi’, which was similar in length to it, by suddenly biting it in the neck, after Hobi made a poor landing in a trench where Cheongi jumped into, 5 m (16 feet) below Cheongi’s yard, which was next to Hobi’s pen, to catch a chicken that a zookeeper had thrown to it.[29]

At Liberec Zoo, Czech Republic, in November 2009, two lions, fourteen-year-old Sultan and eleven-year-old Elsa, opened a trap door to the enclosure of a seventeen-year-old white tigress called ‘Isabella’, and killed it.[30]

Competition or coexistence in the Eurasian wilderness[edit]

Currently, India is the only country on Earth confirmed to have both lions and tigers in its wilderness.[11][31][32] For now, they do not share the same territory in India, but they did in the past,[5][33][34][35][36] and there is a project mentioned below that could make their meeting in the wild possible, if implemented.[37][38][39]

Before the end of the 20th Century, both species also occurred in other Asian or Eurasian nations.[7][11][32][33][34][35][40][41] As such, there is a Farsi word for ‘Lion’, which can also mean ‘Tiger’, used in Iran, the Indian Subcontinent and other areas, that is ‘Sher’ or ‘Shir’ (Persian: شیر‎‎),[6][7][11][35][40][42][43] and its significance is discussed below. Apart from the possibility of competition, there are legends of Asiatic lions and tigers interacting together to produce hybrid offspring, which would be ligers or tigons.[44][45][46][47][48]

Asiatic lions and Bengal tigers[edit]

In India, or, in the extended modern sense, the Subcontinent,[49] Asiatic lions[34][40] and Bengal tigers[33] occurred in places such as the Bengali and Punjabi Regions, and co-existed before the end of the 19th Century.[5][6][11][32][35][36] A few reports of clashes between them have been made, in the 19th Century, though it was not clear which cat regularly beat the other.[5] Kailash Sankhala (1978) said that the habitat and prey of the Indian lion was not like those of an African savannah, but like habitats of Indian tigers, to an extent, including the dry, deciduous Aravali part of Sariska Tiger Reserve, in the State of Rajasthan, and were difficult places for predators to hunt as groups.[24] Today, lions are found in Gir Forest National Park, in the State of Gujarat[40][50][51] (which used to have tigers),[41] and tigers are found in other places, like Sariska Tiger Reserve[24] and Ranthambore National Park[38] in Rajasthan, and the Bengali Sunderbans.[52] Either big cat can be called ‘Sher’ (Hindi: शेर) in the Subcontinent.[11][35][40][43]

The possibility of conflict, between lions and tigers, has been raised in relation to India’s Asiatic Lion Reintroduction Project, which is meant to introduce Gir Forest’s lions to another reserve considered to be within the former range of the Indian lion, that is Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in the State of Madhya Pradesh,[37] which was reported to contain some tigers that came from Ranthambore Park, including one called ‘T-38’.[5][38] Concerns were raised that the co-presence of lions and tigers would “trigger frequent clashes.”[53] The University of Minnesota’s Lion Research Project describes one reason to delay the introduction of lions to Kuno Palpur, is the fear that tigers living there would kill the incoming lions. In a one-on-one encounter, it is believed that a Bengal tiger could beat a Gujarati lion, given its weight advantage.[5][39] However, lions are social, and may form fighting groups, whereas tigers are usually solitary, and it is believed that a group of lions (2 – 3 males) or lionesses (2 – 4 females) is more than match for a single tiger or tigress (See the Section Temperament below). Therefore, it would appear that in order for Asiatic lions to survive in an area with Bengal tigers, after being translocated there, the lions would have to be translocated there as intact groups, rather than as individuals, according to Doctor Craig Packer.[5] Nevertheless, tigers occasionally socialize, like for the purpose of mating, or forming hunting groups.[11][35]

Reginald Innes Pocock (1939) mentioned that some people had the opinion that the tiger played a role in the near-extinction of the Indian lion, but he dismissed this view as ‘fanciful’. According to him, there was evidence that tigers inhabited the Subcontinent, before lions. The tigers likely entered Northern India from the eastern end of the Himalayas, through Burma, and started spreading throughout the area, before the lions likely entered Northern India from Balochistan or Persia, and spread to places like the Bengal and the Nerbudda River. Because of that, before the presence of man could limit the spread of lions, tigers reached parts of India that lions did not reach, such as the South, beyond the Nerbudda River. However, the presence of tigers, throughout India, did not stop the spread of lions in India, in the first place, so Pocock said that it is unlikely that Bengal tigers played a role, significant or subordinate, in the near-extinction of the Indian lion, rather, that man was responsible for it,[35] as was the case with the decline in tigers’ numbers.[6][11][33][35][36] As such, Pocock (1939) thought that it was unlikely that serious competition between them regularly occurred, and that, even if Indian lions and tigers met, the chance that they would fight for survival, was as good as the chance that they would choose to avoid each other, and that their chances of success, if they were to clash, were as good as each other’s.[35]

Asiatic lions and Caspian tigers[edit]

Countries reported to have had Asiatic lions[32][40] and Caspian tigers[41][54][55][56] were Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and former members of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.[6][11] Heptner and Sludskii (1972)[6] and Nowell and Jackson (1996, 2008)[55][56] did not say if they competed in those countries, or not, but it is likely that they shared habitats.[6][35] Apart from Asia, they occurred in Europe, in the region of the Black Sea, with tigers occurring in Ciscaucasia, and lions occurring in the Balkans, which includes Greece, or part of it,[57] up to Thrace and Macedonia, and possibly the Danube River, at least.[6][11][35]

Velikiy Kniaz Vladimir II Monomakh of Kievan Rus',[6][58] in his work, “Poucheniya Detyam” (1117), said that while he ruled Turov (in what is now Belarus[59]) and Chernigov (in what is now the Ukraine[60]), he was on a hunt when he was attacked by a “lyuti zver” (Old Russian for “fierce animal”). The “lyuti zver” sprang towards his thighs, and hurt him and his horse. Traditionally, the zver was considered to be a wolf or lynx, but, according to Heptner and Sludskii (1972), neither would spring at a rider or injure a horse, so it was more likely to be a big cat, with some people thinking that it could have been a leopard, or that it was more likely to be a tiger than a lion. The occurrence of the lion at the southern Russian Steppes, or at the mouth of the Don River (Russia), or its area, is disputed, whereas tigers likely occurred in the Russian Steppes, or at the estuary of the Don River.[6]

In Afghanistan, it is possible that lions occurred at least in the southwest and southern parts.[6] Tigers bred at the upper reaches of the Hari Rud or Tedzhen Darya at Herat.[6][35] Tigers were found at a tributary of the Amu Darya called the ‘Pyandzh River’, from where they could invade another place (like Persian tigers that invaded what was the Soviet Union), and the Geri, Kunduz and Murghab Rivers. Intrusions from the Soviet Union were reported in the 1960s.[6] In 1997, a tiger was reportedly killed in the northeastern region.[54]

Iran to Turkey[edit]

In ancient times, Panthera leo persica lived in much of its namesake home of Persia, including in northern regions near the Transcaucasian and Turkestani parts of the Soviet Union, which is Heptner and Sludskii (1972) could not deny that they had been in the Turkestani region also. Many years ago, in the north, lions had been in the area of Tehran, and the Persian upland. Around the year 900, they were encountered in the south, although not frequently. However, in the 1870s, they occurred in western region, in the southwestern part of the Zagros Mountains, near Mesopotamia, and in forested areas which were south and southeast of Shiraz. Persian tigers also occurred in regions close to the Soviet Union, including the north-western region, enough for them to invade Transcaucasia and Turkestan, including those of the Atrek Basin and Gorgan.[6]

The Euphrates and Tigris Rivers flow from Turkey to Iraq, through Syria.[61] Lions were seen along the upper reaches of the Euphrates (Biledzhik, 1877) (Alston and Danford 1880) in the 1870s, before disappearing there by the end of the 19th Century, though they otherwise survived in that period, in Mesopotamia and the Arabian Peninsula.[6] In the 1850s, lions also occurred in the upper courses of the Tigris, near Mosul. In the 1860s there were many lions in Reed marshes, along the banks of the two rives, though mostly in their lower reaches (Blanford, 1876).[6] Tigers occurred in northern Iraq,[62] and in 1887, one was killed near Mosul (Kock, 1990).[54][55]

In what is now Turkey, lions had been in parts of its eastern region, which borders Iraq and Syria, apparently up to the 19th Century, and before that, throughout Asia Minor, excepting the region of the Pontic Mountains in the north.[6] Tigers are also said to have been in the east,[55] occurring in sparse forest habitats and riverine corridors, which stretched from Turkey to Iran, west and south of the Caspian Sea.[56] In February 1970, a tiger was reportedly killed near Uludere in Şırnak Province, in Hakkari Province.[54][55]

The former Soviet Union[edit]

In what was to be the Soviet Union in 1922,[63] Heptner and Sludskii (1972) said that lions occurred in places like Armenia, before their extinction in Transcaucasia in the 10th Century, and they could not deny that they may have occurred in the Turkestani region, as intruders. Turan tigers (which were closely related to Amur tigers of the Russian Far East) occurred in the Caucasian and Turkestani regions, either as residents or intruders.[6][56][64]

In what was to be the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic in the Soviet Union in 1922,[63] lions occurred in an area, which extended unevenly from foot-hills and the Araks River near Yerevan (in what is now Armenia)[65] in the east, almost to Tbilisi (in what is now Georgia)[66] in the west, from Absheron Peninsula (in what is now Azerbaijan)[67] in the north (bypassing the eastern part of the Caucasus), to the Samur River (in the area of what is now the border between Azerbaijan and Dagestan Republic in Russia)[68] in the south.[6] They were hunted by local hunters called ‘shirvanshakhs’. Hyrcan tigers were found in the areas of Tbilisi and Baku in Apsheron Peninsula, and were reported to have intruded territories, like those of Baku and Tbilisi, from other places, like that of the Talysh Mountains and Lankaran Lowland, in what is now Azerbaijan.[6][67] Transcaucasia is home to a Tugay type of forest, and lions and tigers would have hunted prey like deer here.[6]

For what used to be the Turkestani region of the Soviet Union, which now comprises the countries Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan,[64][69] Heptner and Sludskii (1972) could not exclude the possibility of lions occurring in the southern part of the area, which is close to Iran, and along the upper Amu Darya, which has a tributary called “Sherabad Darya,” which touches a town called ‘Shirabad’. In the southwestern part, Mazandaran tigers occurred in the area of the Kopet Dag, along the Atrek River to the Caspian Sea, and the river’s tributaries, the Chandyr and Sumbar Rivers, including the area of Tedzhen, often as intruders from Iran. They also occurred in the regions of the Amu and Syr Daryas, and others, in a vast area extending to the region of Western Siberia or Lake Baikal in the east, where the Amur tiger also reportedly occurred.[6]

Physical comparison[edit]

Comparative size[edit]

Comparative profiles of the lion and tiger[31]


The Siberian tiger was thought of as being the largest tiger and wild felid in present times.[33][70] However, not all measurements support this view, such as those on average weights of wild Bengal and Siberian tigers, and Transvaal lions[34] in Kruger National Park, South Africa.[11][71][72][73][74][75]

The average weight of males was 175 kilograms (385.8 lb) for the Gir lion, 187.5 kilograms (413 lb) for the Kruger lion,[11][34][75] 176.4 kilograms (389 lb) for the Siberian tiger, and 196 kilograms (432 lb) for the Bengal tiger.[72][73] The average weight of 221 kilograms (487 lb) measured for the Bengal tiger in Chitwan National Park, Nepal, excluded any content in the stomach.[74] Likewise, the average weight of 187.5 kilograms (413 lb) measured for the Kruger lion excluded any content in the stomach,[75] and a lion may eat up to 30 kg (66 lb) in one sitting.[76] Southern African lions (Southeast or Southwest African lions) appear to be the largest of living African lions.[11][75]

Vratislav Mazák (1981) said that Siberian, Caspian and Bengal tigers ranked as the biggest felidae in modern times,[33] therefore, the largest of the genus Panthera.[70] He (1981) said that male Ussuri tigers 180–306 kg (397–675 pounds).[33] In the past, they had been bigger and lived longer, according to Hepter and Sludskii (1972).[6] The largest captive Siberian tiger weighed 465 kg (1,025 lb).[47][71] Bengal tigers weighed 180–258 kg (397–569 pounds) (Mazák, 1981),[33] and the largest wild Bengal tiger on record apparently weighed 388.7 kg (857 lb).[71] Male Caspian tigers weighed 170–240 kg (370–530 pounds) (Mazák, 1981),[33] but some could reach larger sizes, according to Heptner and Sludskii (1972).[6] A tiger was killed in Prishibinskoye, at the end of February 1899, with a body length of about 2.70 metres (8.9 feet). K.A. Satunin (1905) said that he “saw it in the flesh” and that it was “a tiger of immense proportions,” appearing to him to have been “no smaller than the common Tuzemna horse.”[6]

However, Mazák (1981) did not mention felid hybrids.[33] Ligers could weigh well over 300 kg (660 pounds), and outsize tigers.[44][45][46][47][48]

As for African lions, divided into the Senegalese, Masai, Northeast Congolese, Katangan and Transvaal subspecies, and possibly an Ethiopian subspecies,[77][78] barring the Atlas lion and ‘black-maned’ Cape lion, which may have been a subspecies of lion, or a former population of Southern African lions,[79][80][81] males weighed 150–226 or 249.5 kg (331–498 or 550 pounds), with some having exceeded 249.5 kg (550 lb) in the wilderness.[6][34][71][75][82][83]

Cape lions were considered to have been bigger than other Sub-Saharan African lions,[17][79] and lions approaching 272 kg (600 pounds) in weight were shot south of the Vaal River (Pease, 1913, page 91).[84] Some people considered the North African lion to have been the largest, most powerful lion and African felid.[12][13][17] It is difficult to know their exact weights, but Yamaguchi and Haddane (2002), using a small sample size available for study, estimated a range of 230–270 kg (510–600 pounds) for males,[13] and[12] considered their range to be about 181.4–272 kg (400–600 pounds). According to some people, lions exceeding 272 kg (600 pounds) in weight were killed in Algeria (Pease, 1913, pages 91 – 92) (Bryden, 1899, pages 567 – 568).[84][85] Atlas was described by Gettysburg Compiler (1899) as being “much superior to the black-maned lions of South Africa in bulk and bravery.”[17]

However, Bryden (1899, page 567 – 568)[85] believed that, on average, barring huge specimens, Atlas lions were not larger than other lions, and not all sources support the notion of Atlas lions being the largest of lions, or of Cape lions being larger than all other Sub-Saharan African lions.[34][71][86] An emasculated lion in Surrey Zoological Gardens, brought from Kaffraria, was described by Jardine (1834) as being “much larger than either the Barbary or Persian lion.”[86] A huge East African lion near Mount Kenya weighed 272 kg (600 pounds) (Nowell and Jackson, 1996).[34] The largest African lion in the wild, on record, apparently was a Transvaal lion[34] shot in Hectorspruit, South Africa, in 1936, which weighed 313 kg (690 lb).[71]

Male Indochinese tigers weighed 150–195 kg (331–430 pounds) (Mazák, 1981).[33] Pocock (1939) said that Indian lions were similar in size to Central African lions.[6][35] Male Gir lions weighed 160–190 kg (350–420 pounds) (Haas et al., 2005).[34] In 1935, near Quetta in what is now Pakistan, while traveling on a train, a British Admiral reportedly saw a goat being eaten by a maneless lion, which he said was “large … very stocky, light tawny in colour,” and he suggested that even his two attendants had no doubts about what they had seen, until arriving at Quetta, where “many officers expressed doubts as to its identity, or to the possibility of there being a lion in the district.”[11]

Male South Chinese tigers weighed 130–175 kg (287–386 pounds), Javan tigers weighed 100–141 kg (220–311 pounds), Sumatran tigers weighed 100–140 kg (220–310 pounds), and Bali tigers weighed 90–100 kg (200–220 pounds) (Mazák, 1981).[33]


African lionesses weighed 120–182 kg (265–401 pounds), and Gir lionesses weighed 110–120 kg (240–260 pounds) (Haas et al., 2005).[34] As for Barbary lionesses, Yamaguchi and Haddane (2002), using a small sample size available for study, estimated a range of 140–190 kg (310–420 pounds),[13] and estimated a range of 90.7–181.4 kg (200–400 pounds).[12]

Ussuri tigresses weighed 100–167 kg (220–368 pounds), Bengal tigresses weighed 100–160 kg (220–350 pounds). Caspian tigresses weighed 85–135 kg (187–298 pounds), Indochinese tigresses weighed 100–130 kg (220–290 pounds), South Chinese tigresses weighed 100–115 kg (220–254 pounds), Javan tigresses weighed 75–115 kg (165–254 pounds), Sumatran tigresses weighed 75–110 kg (165–243 pounds), and Bali tigresses weighed 65–80 kg (143–176 pounds) (Mazák, 1981).[33]



Between the pegs, male Amur tigers measured 2.70–3.30 metres (8.9–10.8 feet) (Mazák, 1981), and the largest one reportedly measured 350 cm (140 in) “over the curves,” or 330 cm (130 in) “between the pegs.”[87] Bengal tigers measured 2.70–3.10 metres (8.9–10.2 feet) (Mazák, 1981), and the heaviest one reportedly measured 322 cm (127 in) between the pegs, and 338 cm (133 in) over the curves.[71] Caspian tigers measured 2.70–2.95 metres (8.9–9.7 feet), Indochinese tigers measured 2.55–2.85 metres (8.4–9.4 feet), South Chinese tigers measured 2.30–2.65 metres (7.5–8.7 feet), Sumatran tigers measured 2.20–2.55 metres (7.2–8.4 feet), Javan tigers measured about 2.48 m (8.1 ft), and Bali tigers measured 2.20–2.30 metres (7.2–7.5 feet) (Mazák, 1981).[33]

Male African lions measured 1.70–2.50 metres (5.6–8.2 feet) (Haas et al., 2005).[34] A Southwest African lion[34] shot near Mucusso, southern Angola, in October 1973, is said to have measured nearly 360 cm (11.8 ft).[71] For two Gir lions, Colonel Fenton and Count Scheibler gave head-and-body measurements of 6 ft 6 in (198 cm) each, with tail-lengths of 2 ft 11 in (89 cm) and 2 ft 7 in (79 cm), and total lengths of 9 ft 5 in (287 cm) and 9 ft 3 in (282 cm), respectively.[6][35] A record for the length of the Indian lion, including the tale, was 2.92 m (9.6 ft) (Sinha, 1987).[11]


Between the pegs, Siberian tigresses measured 2.40–2.75 metres (7.9–9.0 feet), Bengal tigresses measured 2.40–2.65 metres (7.9–8.7 feet), Caspian tigresses measured 2.40–2.60 metres (7.9–8.5 feet), Indochinese tigresses measured 2.30–2.55 metres (7.5–8.4 feet), South Chinese tigresses measured 2.20–2.40 metres (7.2–7.9 feet), Sumatran tigresses measured 2.15–2.30 metres (7.1–7.5 feet), and Bali tigresses measured 1.90–2.10 metres (6.2–6.9 feet) (Mazák, 1981).[33]

African lionesses measured 1.40–1.75 metres (4.6–5.7 feet) (Haas et al., 2005).[34]

Height at the shoulder[edit]

The Bengal and Manchurian tiger subspecies are the tallest at the shoulder among all living felids,[17][71] apart from hybrids.[44][45][46][47][48] Bengal tigers generally measured 90 to 110 centimetres (3.0 to 3.6 feet) (Riney, 1982), barring any tiger that measured up to 4 feet (120 centimetres) or more.[17][36][87]

Asiatic lions measured about 3.50 feet (107 centimetres).[88] According to measurements taken, Barbary lions were not the tallest lions at the shoulder, measuring only 2 feet 7 inches (79 centimetres) to 3 feet 3 inches (99 centimetres), which would have made them 3–11 inches (7.6–27.9 centimetres) shorter than other African lions.[12][84][86] Thus, the heavy recorded weights of some Barbary lions may have been due to them having been quite fat, at least after consuming prey, or having a muscular build, in terms of chest-girth and the thickness of their thighs, for example.[12][17][84] Southeast or Southwest African lions[34] in the Kalahari xeric savanna, a number of which possessed black manes, despite being lighter than lions in Mesic habitats, were taller at the shoulder than them (Roderigues, 1997).[89]


Comparative illustration of tiger and lion skulls.
Comparison of tiger and lion skulls

Lions’ skulls rival those of tigers in size[33] or length (Pease, 1913, page 101),[84] with even the largest known skulls of tigers being smaller than the largest known skulls of lions, albeit slightly. Apart from their sizes, the skulls of lions and tigers are generally similar, with there being differences in structural features of the lower jaws, relative lengths of their noses,[6] and the frontal regions.[35] Their skulls were so similar that Heptner and Sludskii (1972) argued that it was the tiger that was the closest relative of the lion, not the leopard or jaguar, unlike what others believed.[6][90]

Skulls of male lions measured 321.0–401.0 millimetres (12.64–15.79 in) at maximum, 309.0–348.0 millimetres (12.17–13.70 in) in condylobasal length, and 222.0–256.0 millimetres (8.74–10.08 in) in zygomatic width. Skulls of lionesses measured 292.0–333.0 millimetres (11.50–13.11 in), 263.0–291.0 millimetres (10.35–11.46 in) in condylobasal length, and 188.0–212.0 millimetres (7.40–8.35 in) in zygomatic width (Roberts, 1959).[6]

Skulls of male Amur tigers measured 331.0–383.0 millimetres (13.03–15.08 in) at maximum, 291.0–342.0 millimetres (11.46–13.46 in) in condylobasal length, and 220.0–268.0 millimetres (8.66–10.55 in) in zygomatic width. Skulls of Amur tigresses measured 279.7–310.2 millimetres (11.01–12.21 in), 252.2–273.4 millimetres (9.93–10.76 in) in condylobasal length, and 190.0–203.6 millimetres (7.48–8.02 in) in zygomatic width.[6]

Skulls of male Caspian tigers measured 297.0–365.8 millimetres (11.69–14.40 in) at maximum, 259.0–307.9 millimetres (10.20–12.12 in) in condylobasal length, and 219.0–254.0 millimetres (8.62–10.00 in) in zygomatic width. Skulls of Caspian tigresses measured 195.7–255.5 millimetres (7.70–10.06 in), 225.0–263.2 millimetres (8.86–10.36 in) in condylobasal length, and 183.0–203.2 millimetres (7.20–8.00 in) in zygomatic width. A Turanian tiger was killed near the Sumbar Darya in the Kopet Dag, on the 10th of January, 1954, and its stuffed skin was put on display in a museum in Ashgabat. Despite being only 2.25 metres (7.4 feet), in terms of body length, it had a greatest skull length of about 385.0 millimetres (15.16 in), condylobasal length of about 305.0 millimetres (12.01 in), and zygomatic width of 205.0 millimetres (8.07 in), making it longer than other known measurements of the Caspian subspecies, and slightly longer than those of the Ussuri subspecies.[6]


The lion is a highly social animal and the tiger is a solitary animal. It is generally agreed that the tiger is the faster, smarter and more ferocious of the two so keepers of captive tigers must take care to avoid a sudden attack.[91]

Lions may roam in prides of up to 30 individuals headed by a mature male or group of related males. Male lions are typically either killed or pushed away by incoming male leadership. The majority of single roaming lions tend to be males preparing for maturation and assimilation with a new or existing pride. While male lions are generally larger and stronger than female lions, it is the close-knit female pride alliance that typically hunts and provides for the pride. By contrast, tigers are often solitary,[91] socializing at other times.[11] During mating, a male tiger and tigress would come together, and when together, they would behave more ferociously to other creatures, or even humans, if nearby, but the same would apply to lions.[35]

Brain size[edit]

A study by Oxford University scientists has shown that tigers have much bigger brains, relative to body size, than lions and other big cats. Although comparisons showed that lion skulls were larger overall, the tiger’s cranial volume is the largest — even small Balinese tigresses’ skulls have cranial volumes as large as those of huge male Southern African lions.[92][93] Bali tigresses weighed between 65–80 kg (143–176 lb)[94] while male Southern African lions appear to represent the largest living lions.[34][75]

Bite force[edit]

Tigers have been shown to have higher average bite forces (such as at the canine tips) than lions.[95] The bite force adjusted for body mass allometry (BFQ) for tiger is 127, while that for lion is 112.[96] Tigers have a well-developed sagittal crest and coronoid processes, providing muscle attachment for their strong bite.[97] Tigers also have exceptionally stout teeth, and the canines are the longest and biggest among all living felids, measuring from 7.5 to 10 cm (3.0 to 3.9 in) in length, and are larger and longer than those of a similar-sized lion,[97][98] probably because tigers need to bring down larger prey alone than lions, which usually hunt large prey in groups.[98]


A swipe of a tiger’s paw may crush a cow’s skull.[99] Charles Frederick Partington (1835) said that Javan and Sumatran tigers, despite not being as heavy as Bengal tigers, were strong enough to break legs of horses or buffaloes with their paws.[31]

Nevertheless, during the fight between a Bengal tiger and Atlas, though the tiger was quite massive and muscular, and its paw-swipes could be faster, they tended to be lighter than those of Atlas, according to Gettysburg Compiler (1899). For example, the tiger’s paw-swipes could outnumber those of Atlas three-to-one, but Atlas’ paw-swipes cut deeper wounds into the tiger’s hide, than those given to its hide by the tiger’s paw-swipes.[17]


Lions and tigers, like other Pantherid felidae, are capable of roaring.[90] In a zoo, if a tiger is near a lion, and it roars, then the lion may roar in response, like it would as if another lion did, and some people may not be able to distinguish between their roars.[35] However, that does not mean that no differences exist between them.[31][33][100][101] Charles Frederick Partington, said that, in comparison, whereas a lion’s roar would be loud and terrifying, but with ‘grandeur’, a tiger’s cry would be ‘horrid’ and ‘appalling’, with a ‘piercing’ effect.[31]


A male lion’s roar can have a fundamental frequency of about 195 Hertz, whereas that of a lioness’ roar may exceed 206 Hertz.[100]


A lion’s roar can reach 114 decibels/meter (McComb et al. 1994; Peters and Wozencraft 1996),[34] and can be heard up to 5 km (3.1 mi) (Guggisberg 1975), or at least 8 km (5.0 mi) away in optimal conditions (Sunquist & Sunquist, 2002), making it the loudest of the cat family.[11][100][101] A tiger’s roar can be heard up to 3 km (1.9 mi) away (Mazák, 1981).[33]

Expert opinions[edit]

Favoring the tiger[edit]

  • John Varty, owner of the Londolozi Reserve in South Africa, said, “People always ask me which one is bigger? If a tiger and a lion had a fight, which one would win? Well, I’ve seen tigers crunch up a full-grown leopard tortoise like it was nothing. And lions try, but they just don’t get it right. If there’s a fight, the tiger will win, every time.”[102]
  • The animal rescue organisation Big Cat Rescue of Tampa, Florida answered, “While we would much prefer that people focus their thoughts on saving these magnificent animals than on who would win if a lion and tiger fight, the power of these two largest cats seems to raise this question in people's minds. While it would depend on the size, age, and aggressiveness of the specific animals involved, generally tigers have a significant advantage.”[103]
  • The conservation charity Save China's Tigers stated “Recent research indicates that the tiger is indeed stronger than the lion in terms of physical strength. Lions hunt in prides, so it would be in a group and the tiger as a solitary creature so it would be on its own. A tiger is generally physically larger than a lion. Most experts would favor a Siberian and Bengal tiger over an African lion.”[104]
  • National Geographic Channel's documentary “The Last Lions of Asia” mentioned that a Bengal tiger had a weight advantage of 50 kilograms (110 lb) over an Asiatic lion, and could kill the lion in a fight, if the lion was alone, without a pride.[39]
  • John Smith Clarke, a British lion tamer, said, in a lecture on the fight between a tiger and a lion given to the Glasgow Zoological Society, while showing the actual fight on the screen, “in 100 cases out of 100 the tiger would always beat the lion. It was far more agile, it was not so clumsy in its movements, it was equally strong, it was equally armed, but it fought in a different way. The tiger very often fought rolling on its back and held the lion in its grip until it defeated him.”[105]

Favoring the lion[edit]

  • Clyde Beatty the animal trainer and performer who owned several tigers, lions, hyenas, and other exotic animals, believed that in nine out of ten times, “a full-grown lion would whip a full-grown tiger.” He mentioned that since he first began mixing the animals, 25 of his tigers (2 of them being Siberian tigers, the rest of them being Bengal tigers) were killed in the circus arena, but there was not a single lion casualty.[16]
  • Renowned naturalist and conservationist of India, Kailash Sankhala wrote in his book ‘Tiger’ that the tiger would be unable to get close to lion's vital joints because of his thick mane, and that the tiger would be vulnerable to the lion. He mentioned that once an Indian prince organized a fight between a lion and a tiger. In that case, the lion killed the tiger. As such, Sankhala opined “a tiger is no match for even single lion of equal strength.”[24]
  • Dave Hoover, the animal trainer for Cole Bros. Circus, mentioned that “lions are better fighters than tigers,” and that some of their circus tigers were killed by lions.[106]


  • A keeper at the zoo in Jeonju, Korea, where a Siberian tigress was killed by a bigger male lion, said that it was ‘rare’ that a tiger and a lion would fight, and that when they did fight, the outcome depended on which beast got a head start, or was more aggressive. Moreover, he thought and that neither beast was superior to the other.[29]

Mythical character comparison[edit]

18th-century naturalists and authors compared the species' characters, generally in favor of the lion.[107] Oliver Goldsmith ranked the lion first among carnivorous mammals, followed by the tiger, which in his view “seems to partake of all the noxious qualities of the lion, without sharing any of his good ones. To pride, courage and strength, the lion joins greatness, clemency and generosity; but the tiger is fierce without provocation, and cruel without necessity.”[108] Charles Knight, writing in “The English Cyclopaedia”, disparaged the opinions of naturalists Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon and Thomas Pennant in this context, stating “the general herd of authors who eulogise the ‘courage, greatness, clemency and generosity’ of the lion, contrasting it with the unprovoked ferocity, unnecessary cruelty and poltroonery of the tiger, becomes ridiculous, though led by such names as Buffon and Pennant.”[107]

The lion’s mane[edit]

About the lion’s mane, Knight wrote “The lion has owed a good deal to his mane and his noble and dignified aspect; but appearances are not always to be trusted.”[107] In fact, a study was done by scientists Craig Packer and Peyton West that claimed that the mane of the lion was strictly for mating purposes. Darker-maned lions were more often picked by females to breed, while light-maned lions were not so lucky. A lion’s mane did not always purposely help in a fight, and it might even hinder the male lion, slowing it down when it attacked, according to Packer and West.[109]

However, Clyde (1939)[16] and Kailash (1978)[24] believed that the mane could defend part of the lion’s body, in a fight against the tiger. When the Bengal tiger fought Atlas, it tried biting Atlas’ neck, but it could not, due to the mane blocking its teeth, and interfering with its respiratory system.[17] According to Heptner and Sludskii (1997), Barbary and Cape lions had the “most luxuriant and extensive manes (tresses on flanks and abdomen),” among lions.[6]

Arts and literature[edit]


The Seringapatam medal shows a lion defeating a tiger

Battles between the two were painted in the 18th and 19th centuries by Eugène Delacroix, George Stubbs and James Ward. Ward's paintings, which portrayed lion victories in accordance with the lion's symbolic value in Great Britain, have been described as less realistic than Stubbs.[110]

The British Seringapatam medal shows a lion defeating a tiger in battle; an Arabic language banner on the medal displays the words “Asad Allah al-Ghalib” (Arabic: أسـد الله الـغـالـب‎‎) (Lion of God the Conqueror). The medal commemorated the British victory at the 1799 Battle of Seringapatam (in the town now known as Srirangapatna) over Tipu Sultan—who used tigers as emblems, as opposed to the British emblematic use of lions.[111]


English literature compared their battle strengths.[112] The poets Edmund Spenser, Allan Ramsey, and Robert Southey described lion victories.[112] In the view of a 19th-century literary critic, these contests established “sovereignty of the animal world.”[112] In the Hindu epic Mahabharata, Narada told Srinjaya that tigers were fiercer and more ruthless than lions.[113]


In ‘Paalai’, a Tamil film, there is dialogue about the characteristics of the tiger and lion. It concludes that the tiger is superior. In the film, the tiger is the symbol and flag of the native Tamil tribal people and the lion is the symbol and flag of non-Tamil Singhal (literally meaning ‘Leonine’) people.[114]


The city of Detroit, Michigan has professional sports teams named after Tigers and Lions competing (along with other sports franchises) for attention of sports fans in the greater Detroit area and beyond. A 2012 poll indicated that the Tigers were slightly more popular than the Lions among Michigan residents,[115] although this has been disputed by other commentators.[116][117]

See also[edit]


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