Tiger versus lion

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An Asiatic lion and two Bengal tigers[1] in captivity at Bannerghatta National Park, India. India is the last country with both lions and tigers in the wild. Historically, the modern lion and tiger co-occupied a vast portion of Eurasia,[2] from India in the east, through northern Iran and Iraq, to the shores of the Black Sea in the west.[3][4]

Historically, a comparison of the tiger (Panthera tigris) versus the lion (Panthera leo)[3][4] has been a popular topic of discussion by hunters,[5][6] naturalists,[7] artists, and poets, and continues to inspire the popular imagination.[8][9][10][11] In the past, lions and tigers reportedly competed in the wilderness,[12][13] where their ranges overlapped in Eurasia.[3][14] The most common reported circumstance of their meeting is in captivity,[15] either deliberately[9][16] or accidentally.[12][17]


Both the lion and the tiger have fearsome reputations in their native areas in relation to prey, sympatric predators, and people. Both may prey on humans, though rates of man-eating tend to be higher for the tiger.[6][18] General differences in behaviour:

  • The lion is usually a highly social animal while the tiger is solitary. It is agreed that the tiger is faster, smarter and more ferocious, and that keepers of captive tigers must constantly fear sudden attack.[19]
  • Lions may roam in prides of up to 30 individuals headed by a mature male or group of related males, until an incumbent male is killed or driven away by a new male leader. 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,[19] though they do socialize.[4] During a mating tryst, a tiger and tigress are hostile to other creatures, with the same applying to lions.[20]

More specifically, however, the Asiatic lion has similarities and differences with both its African relative and the tiger. For example, Asiatic lions are social like their African relatives, and females may be promiscuous.[21] However, the structures of the prides of African and Asiatic lions vary,[22] with male Asiatic lions usually associating with females during times of mating,[23][24] similar to tigers,[4][20] and whereas Asiatic lionesses and tigresses may practice promiscuity to defend their cubs, African lionesses are believed not to do it for that purpose.[25]

History in captivity[edit]

A Mughal painting of a Dervish with a lion and tiger

In the circuses of Ancient Rome, exotic beasts were commonly pitted against each other,[16] including Barbary lions[4][26][27] and tigers.[28] A mosaic in the House of the Faun in Pompeii shows a fight between a lion and a tiger.[29] There are different accounts of which of these animals won victory. Although lions and tigers can be kept together in harmony in captivity,[30] fatal conflicts have also been recorded.[9][31][32][33]

Coexistence in the Eurasian wilderness[edit]

Currently, India is the only country confirmed to have both wild lions and tigers.[4][34][35] Though they do not share the same territory, they did in the past,[12][36][20][37] and there is a project mentioned below that could lead to their meeting in the wild.[38][39][40]

Before the end of the 20th Century, lions[41][42] and tigers[43][44] had also occurred in other Asian[2] or Eurasian nations, including Iran.[4][14][35][20] As such, there is a word for 'Lion',[3][4][14][42] which can also mean 'Tiger',[20][45] and is used in Iran, South Asia and other areas, that is 'Sher' or 'Shir' (Persian: شیر‎),[46] and its significance is discussed below. The lion is also of cultural importance in the Far East,[47][48] including the land[49][50] of the Indochinese tiger,[43] but according to authors such as Reginald Innes Pocock (1939)[20] and Nowell and Jackson (1996),[4] the lion did not naturally occur there.

According to Colin Tudge (2011), given that both cats hunt large herbivores, it is likely that they had been in competition in Asia. Despite their social nature, lions might have competed with tigers on an individual basis, as they would with each other.[2]

Apart from the possibility of competition, there are legends of Asiatic lions and tigers breeding to produce hybrid offspring, which would be ligers or tigons.[51][52][53][54][55] From the fossil record, besides genetics,[4][44][56] it would appear that the modern lion and tiger were present in Eurasia since the Pleistocene, when now-extinct relatives also existed there.[3][41][43] Additionally, in the days before Indian Independence, the Maharaja of Gwalior introduced African lions into his area, which is a habitat for Bengal tigers.[57]

Asiatic lion and Bengal tiger[edit]

T-12 the Bengal tiger in Ranthambore National Park, Kathiawar-Gir dry deciduous forests' ecoregion, India

In India, or in the extended modern sense, the Subcontinent,[58] Asiatic lions[41][42][59] and Bengal tigers[43][60][61] coexisted in a number of places,[3][4][12][36][35][20][37] before the end of the 20th century.[62] Amongst the places where they coexisted, or were reported to have been at least, are the area of Gwalior in the center,[63] that of Mount Abu in the north,[64] and that of Bahawalpur in what is now Pakistan.[4][59] 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 the Indian tiger to an extent, including the dry, deciduous Aravali part of Sariska Tiger Reserve in the State of Rajasthan, and that it was a difficult place for predators to hunt as groups.[65]

Today, lions are found in Gir Forest National Park and surrounding areas in the region of Saurashtra,[66] State of Gujarat,[42][67][68] and tigers are found in other places, like Sariska Tiger Reserve[65] and Ranthambore National Park[40] in neighboring Rajasthan, the neighboring states of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, and the Bengali Sunderbans.[68][69] Gir, Sariska and Ranthambore are in the same ecoregion, that of Kathiawar-Gir dry deciduous forests.[60][61] Though the Bengal tiger is reportedly extinct in northern and southeastern Gujarat, the nearest population of tigers to Kathiawar Peninsula is in the border-area of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.[4][37][44][60] It is located across the Gulf of Khambhat from Kathiawar Peninsula,[68] and includes the Dangs' Forest[70][71][72] and Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary.[73] Either big cat can be called 'Sher' (Hindi: शेर) and have a fearsome reputation in the Subcontinent,[4][20][42][45] and emigrate from its protected habitat.[38]

The possibility of conflict, between lions and tigers, had been raised in relation to India's Asiatic Lion Reintroduction Project, which was meant to introduce the Gir Forest's lions to another reserve which is considered to be within the former range of the Indian lion, that is Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh,[39] before December 2017.[74][75] Kuno was reported to contain some tigers that came from Ranthambore Park, including one called 'T-38'.[12][40] Concerns were raised that the co-presence of lions and tigers would "trigger frequent clashes."[76] 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 an Indian lion, given its weight advantage.[12][38] Despite the fact that the habitats of Indian lions and tigers are similar means that they both live in conditions that favor solitary hunters of prey,[65] these lions are social like their African relatives,[22] 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 a match for a single tiger or tigress (see § Temperament). Therefore it would appear that in order for Asiatic lions to survive in an area with Bengal tigers, the lions would have to be translocated there as intact groups rather than as individuals.[12]

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. However, the presence of tigers throughout India did not stop the spread of lions there, 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,[20] as was the case with the decline in tigers' numbers.[3][4][43][20][37] As such, Pocock 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.[20]

Asiatic lion and Caspian tiger[edit]

Men with a restrained lion in Iran. This photograph was taken by Antoin Sevruguin, ca. 1880.[77]
A Caspian tiger killed in northern Iran, early 1940's

Before the start of the 21st century, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria,[78] Turkey, and former members of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, such as Azerbaijan,[3][4] were reported to have had Asiatic lions[35][42] and Caspian tigers.[4][44][79][80] Besides Asia, lions and tigers had occurred in Europe, in the region of the Black Sea, with tigers occurring in Ciscaucasia, and lions occurring in the Balkans,[81] up to Thrace and Macedonia, and possibly the Danube River,[3][4][20] at least.[82]

Velikiy Kniaz Vladimir II Monomakh of Kievan Rus',[83] in his work, "Poucheniya Detyam" (1117), said that while he ruled Turov (in what is now Belarus)[84] and Chernigov (in what is now the Ukraine),[85] he was on a hunt when he was attacked by a lyuti zver (Russian: лютый зверь, Old Russian for "fierce animal"). The 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 the area of the mouth of the Don River, is disputed, whereas tigers likely occurred in the Russian Steppes or at the estuary of the Don River.[3]

In Afghanistan, it is possible that lions occurred at least in the southwest and southern parts. Tigers bred at the upper reaches of the Hari Rud or Tedzhen Darya at Herat.[3][20] 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.[3] The last known sighting of a tiger was in the Babatag Range, which is on the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan, in 1998.[86]

In ancient times, the Persian lion lived throughout much of its namesake home, including in northern regions near the Transcaucasian and Turkestani parts of the Soviet Union, which is why Heptner and Sludskii 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 northwestern region, enough for them to invade the Trans-Caucasus and Turkestan, including those of the Atrek Basin and Gorgan.[3]

The Euphrates and Tigris Rivers flow from Turkey to Iraq, through the Syrian region.[87] 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. In the 1850s, lions also occurred in the upper courses of the Tigris, near Mosul in the north. 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).[3] Two lions in the region of Mosul were reported for the last time in 1914, and the last lion in Iraq was slaughtered on the lower Tigris in 1918.[4][59][88] Mazandaran tigers also occurred in Iraq,[89] on the banks of the Euphrates and Tigris. In 1887, a tiger was killed near Mosul (Kock, 1990).[79][4]

In the Syrian region, before the end of the 19th Century, the lion occurred from what is now the country of Syria[78] in the north, to the area of Palestine in the south. In particular, lions had been present in the area of Aleppo, even as late as 1891 (Kinnear, 1920).[3][4] Up to the 1970s, the tiger had been reported in the area of Hatay, which includes Amuq Valley, and had been transferred from Syria to Turkey, during the Second World War.[78] Turkish tigers were also reported from the Plain of Selçuk in the western region,[90][91] to sparse forests and riverine corridors in the eastern region, which borders Iraq and Syria.[80] In February 1970, a tiger was reportedly killed near Uludere in Şırnak Province, Hakkari Region.[4][79] Anatolian lions had been in parts of the eastern region, apparently up to the 19th Century. Before that, the lion had been throughout Asia Minor, excepting the region of the Pontic Mountains in the north.[3]

In what was to be the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic in the Soviet Union in 1922,[92] in the northern part of its range there, bypassing the eastern part of the Caucasus, the lion occurred in an area which extended unevenly from foot-hills and the Araks River near Yerevan (in what is now Armenia)[93] in the east, almost to Tbilisi (in what is now Georgia)[94] in the west, from Absheron Peninsula (in what is now Azerbaijan)[95] in the south, to the Samur River (in the region of what is now the border between Azerbaijan and Dagestan in Russia)[3][96] in the north. This place includes what are now the Lagodekhi Protected Areas[97] in the Caucasus mixed forests' ecoregion.[98] Lions were hunted by local hunters called 'shirvans' or 'shirvanshakhs', and became extinct by the end of the 10th century. The Hyrcanian tiger was found in the areas of Tbilisi and Baku in Apsheron Peninsula (which has a wildlife sanctuary[99][100] in the Caspian Hyrcanian mixed forests' ecoregion),[101] and was 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.[3][80][95] The Trans-Caucasus is home to a tugay type of forest, and lions and tigers would have hunted prey like deer here.[3]

For what used to be the Turkestani region of the Soviet Union, which now comprises the countries Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan,[102][103] Heptner and Sludskii 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'. Doctor A. B. Meyer, in his book, The Antiquity of the Lion in Greece, said that the lion did indeed occur in the region of Khaurism, between Afghanistan and the Caspian Sea.[59] This was based on Abbott's 1834 book, A Narrative of a journey from Heraut to Khiva, Moscow and St. Petersburgh, which said that the predators of Khaurism included both the lion and tiger.[104] In the southwestern part of Turkestan, 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. Two tigers that were captured in southwestern Tajikistan harbored tapeworms (Taenia bubesei) which were also recovered from the lion, according to Chernyshev (1953).[3]

Cave lion and tiger[edit]

An illustration of a Eurasian cave lion with a hunted reindeer, by Heinrich Harder

In prehistoric times, before the 10th millennium BC,[41] the Upper Pleistocene Eurasian cave lion[105][106] had occurred throughout much of Eurasia, including the Caucasus, what is now Siberia in Russia, and what used to be Beringia. Judging from cave paintings, such as those of Chauvet, cave lions were social, having formed hunting groups like their modern relatives. Their great distribution may have enabled them to influence the distributions of sympatric carnivores like the tiger, through direct or indirect competition. In fact, during the early Pleistocene, tigers, including the prehistoric Wanhsien tiger,[107][108] appear to have been confined to the Far East, from Siberia in the north to the Sunda Islands in the south. It was during the late Pleistocene or Holocene, around when the cave lion became rare or extinct,[41][109] that the tiger spread westwards to places like the Caucasus and the Indian Subcontinent.[3][43][44][56][110]

Observed fights[edit]

In addition to historical recordings, clashes between lions and tigers were reported or even caught on camera,[62] in the 19th and 20th centuries. It was not always clear which species regularly beat the other, according to Doctor Packer (2015).[12][13]

In captivity[edit]

  • Roman Emperor Titus had Bengal tigers compelled to fight African lions, and the tigers always beat the lions.[111]
  • In July 1808, Sylvanus Urban said that Mr Bolton had a friend who claimed to have seen a fight between the lion and tiger at a circus in Verona. Though the tiger had attacked first, it yielded to the stronger lion.[112]
  • In 1830, a tiger attacked a lion at a menagerie in Turin, Rome. Despite having attacked first, the lion got it on its back, and used its jaws to hold the tiger's throat. The tiger died after that.[113]
  • Clark (1838) said that a British officer, who resided many years at Sierra Leone, saw many fights between lions and tigers, and that the tiger 'universally' won.[36][a]
  • 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.[114]
  • According to Porter (1894), 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.[6]
  • According to the Gettysburg Compiler and The Baltimore Sun (1899), towards the end of the 19th century in India, the Gaekwad of Baroda, that is Sayajirao III,[115][116] arranged a fight in an amphitheater, between a Barbary lion called 'Atlas', from the Atlas Mountains between Algeria and Morocco, and a man-eating 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 an Indian lion and the tiger, as Indian lions were believed to be no match for Bengal tigers.[b] The tiger was more than 10 feet (3.0 metres) long, over 4 feet (120 centimetres) feet at the shoulder, had strong shoulders and long teeth and claws, and was agile. The lion looked taller at the head than the tiger, and had a large mane, legs 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".[33] 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.[9][33]
  • 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.[117]
  • In May 1914, at New York's Bronx Zoo, the barrier between the cages of Rajah, an 8-year-old Bengal tiger, and Huerte, a Nubian lion which was 2[118][119] or 3 years old, and had been sick for some time, got opened in an "unaccountable manner." For the first few minutes, the more agile Huerte appeared to be winning, but when it aimed for its injured opponent's neck, about an hour into the fight, Rajah aimed for its nape. Not only did Rajah manage to bite Huerte's nape, but it also broke Huerte's back, thus slaughtering it.[120][121]
  • 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.[17]
  • Bert Nelson (1938) said that in Chicago, when 20 lions and tigers were mixed together for an act at a circus, a fight occurred, lasting for about 10 minutes. No fatalities were mentioned, but Nelson said that order was 'restored' when tigers used escape doors to flee.[122]
  • 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.[123]
  • By 21 February 1951, Beatty had seen 50 tigers killed by lions throughout his career.[124][125]
  • In September 1951, at a corporation zoo in Madras, India, 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.[126]
  • An Indian Prince organised a filmed fight in a deep pit in the compound of his palace. The lion had killed the tiger, according to Kailash Sankhala (1978).[65][17][31][65][123]
  • 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.[127] "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.

In the wilderness[edit]

  • It appears from the 15th-century book Anvâr-i Suhaylî (Persian: اَنوارِ سُهيلى‎, "Lights of the Canopus")[128] that the lion and tiger competed for dominance in the region of the Tigris River, that is Mesopotamia.[3][4]
  • Herne (1855) mentioned that in the Indian jungle between the village of Elaw, city of Baroche, and Gulf of Cambay, north of the city of Surat and its Ghauts, about 6.0 or 7.0 mi (9.7 or 11.3 km) from the village, he and his party, which included locals, heard a tiger's roar. Pursuing it, they caught a glimpse of it, but by that time, the tiger had attacked a local. It disappeared with the victim, and after pursuing it for about 50.0 yd (150.0 ft), they heard the roar of lion, and besides it, sounds which suggested that it was in a struggle with the tiger, such as growls. The party not only managed to see the lion and tiger rolling about in their battle, after going through bushes, but also the man who fell victim to the tiger. The author termed both the lion and tiger as "tyrants of the forest," given that they would attack weaker creatures. The tiger was about the same size as the lion, but more agile. As for the lion, it used greater strength, and its mane, which was somewhat deeper than those of its bigger African cousins, could protect its head from the tiger's claws, though not other parts of its body, such as the back. They were as determined and brave as each other, but the lion endured. It caught the tiger's throat, turned it on its back, and killed it by clawing its abdomen open. The lion was thus hailed as the "King of Beasts." Otherwise, the fight had been harsh for both beasts, to the extent that the author felt that it would avenge their victims.[129]
  • The Sun (New York) reported that in a depopulated Indian village at the bank of a creek connected to the Cauvery River, about 30.0 mi (48.3 km) north-west of Bangalore, a hunter injured by a venomous creature saw a tiger on his left-hand side, and a lion on his right-hand side. The tiger was a "rousing big fellow, who had seen 15 years of his life," and had muscular limbs. The male lion was "medium-sized." Both of them stalked him, but they did not notice each other at first as they were separated by a wall that was about 4.0 ft (120 cm) tall, and their focus was on the witness. When they got closer to him, the tiger scented the lion, and behaved like an angry cat, which included making a noise that startled the latter. The lion showed its teeth in response, and after reaching the end of the wall, roared at its foe. After the lion's head showed around the wall, the crouching tiger pounced on it, and rolled over with it. As they fought, which involved making bites or scratches, they growled in a way that turned the hunter's hair gray, in his own words. Tigers often kill victims by biting their throats, and keeping their hold on them for as long as necessary,[130] but that was not the case with this struggle. Despite different descriptions of their sizes by the narrator, and that the tiger was more agile than the lion, the tiger's neck was vulnerable to a bite by the lion, and for reasons like these, it was difficult for either cat to defeat the other, overall. After they temporarily retreated from each other, the hunter could see that they were both injured. Still, they were determined to destroy each other. The lion and tiger respectively roared and snarled. The narrator suspected that their hatred for each other may have been because both had been hunting him at the same time, therefore, their respective presences interfered with each other's hunt for him. The tiger pounced on the lion's back, rolling over or falling with it again, and struggling to its feet like it. The lion seemed helpless as the tiger held onto its fore shoulder, before making a move in which it managed to catch the tiger's neck. Now, the tiger seemed helpless, before making a move to use its hind claws to force the lion to release its hold on it. Though the tiger was the aggressor this time, their struggle became more like that of dogs unable to beat each other. They bled from nose to tail as they moved away from the witness, towards the creek. They fell into the water, which was about 2.0 ft (61 cm) deep, and this stopped the fight. They retreated from each other, limping into the forest.[c]
  • Rivalry between the Asiatic lion and "Siberian tiger"[d] is mentioned in Hamilton M. Wright's work, in The San Francisco Call (1911).[135]

Physical comparison[edit]

Comparative profiles of the lion and tiger (assuming similar sizes)[34]

Generally, in terms of dimensions of the body and weight, the modern tiger[43] and lion[41] are the two largest species of the genus Panthera and the cat family. Variations in opinions and measurements exist for them, especially across different populations or subspecies.[34][20] Apart from that, similarities and differences exist for other characteristics, such as the lengths of their skulls.[3] As for their prehistoric relatives, such as the Ngandong tiger[7] and American lion,[138][139] they were considered to have been rather large, but measurements, estimates or opinions for their weights or sizes differ.

Professional 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."[140]
  • The animal rescue organisation Big Cat Rescue of Tampa, Florida answered, "While it would depend on the size, age, and aggressiveness of the specific animals involved, generally tigers have a significant advantage."[141]
  • 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."[142]
  • 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."[143]
  • The BBC (2016), in a three-round study of agility, strength and intelligence, favored the tiger in the case of intelligence, due to the time spent for a particular challenge.[144]
  • 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 a lone lion in a fight.[38]

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 (two 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.[31]
  • 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 in which the lion killed the tiger, and opined that "a tiger is no match for even single lion of equal strength".[65]


  • Carl Hagenbeck, a trainer from Hamburg, said that the lion and tiger were alike in "good temper and reliability". He cited the example of a lion being trained for a month to do tricks, and of a tiger taking five weeks to do so.[145]

Arts and literature[edit]


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.[146]

The British Seringapatam medal shows a lion defeating a tiger in battle; an Arabic language banner on the medal displays the words Asad Allāh al-Ghālib (Arabic: أسَـد الله الـغَـالِـب‎, "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.[147]


A 1739 advertisement by Charles Benjamin Incledon featuring feliforms: the Mesopotamian lion from the vicinity of Bassorah, Cape lion, tiger from the East Indies, panther from Buenos Aires, Hyaena hyaena from West Africa, and leopard from Turkey, besides a "Man tyger" from Africa. Note that the lion comes first in the list, and that it is referred to as the "Magnanimous King of Beaʃt" (sic).

18th-century naturalists and authors compared the species' characters, generally in favor of the lion.[148] 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."[149] 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."[148]

In the Hindu epic Mahabharata, Narada told Srinjaya that tigers were fiercer and more ruthless than lions.[151] This is in contrast with other literature from ancient India, which prefers the lion to the tiger. For example, Vedic literature depicted the lion, rather than the tiger, as the "king of the forest."[152]

The lion and tiger rival each other in Iranian literature.[128] For example, Humphreys and Kahrom, in their 1999 book Lion and Gazelle: The Mammals and Birds of Iran, treated them as the "two greatest and most beautiful" of Iranian carnivores, albeit being extinct there. As with the lion,[3] the tiger's Persian name was used for people and places.[14]

The lion's mane[edit]

A Southern African lion with a thicker mane in Etosha National Park, Namibia

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."[148] 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 attacks, according to Packer and West.[153]

However, Dereck Joubert (1996), who spent many hours studying lions in Botswana, believed that the mane could defend the lion's throat, in a fight with another lion,[154] and Clyde (1939)[31] and Kailash (1978)[65] believed that the mane could defend part of the lion's neck, in a fight against the tiger. Reports also support these claims, for example, when the Shimlan 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.[33] According to Heptner and Sludskii (1997), Barbary and Cape lions had the "most luxuriant and extensive manes" among lions, with "tresses on flanks and abdomen." As for the Asiatic lion, which has a smaller mane than its African cousins,[3][20] apart from African lions that have weak manes or are maneless,[155] during the fight reported by The Sun (New York) (1889), though the tiger could bite the lion's body, it was not mentioned to have bitten the lion's neck.


The term "Tiger economy" has been applied to Asian countries that have undergone rapid economic growth, and the term "Lion economy" to their African counterparts. The two sides, nicknamed the "Asian tigers" and "African lions" have also been compared.[156][157]


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.[158]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ As a West African nation, Sierra Leone would have had indigenous lions, but not tigers.[3][33]
  2. ^ For more details, see Asiatic lion versus Bengal tiger.
  3. ^ As reported by St. Landry Democrat (1887),[131] The Eaton Democrat (1887),[132] The Iola Register (1887),[133] The Milan Exchange (1887),[134] and The Sydney Mail (1889),[13] in chronological order.
  4. ^ Though this term was used,[135] genetic tests showed that the Amur tiger was closely related to the Caspian tiger,[136][137] which also inhabited the former Soviet Union (where Siberia is located), and whose range would have overlapped with that of the lion in places like the Caucasus.[3]


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