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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] Lions and tigers, in the past, may have competed in the wild, where their ranges overlapped, in Asia.[4] The most common reported circumstance of their meeting is in captivity, either deliberately or accidentally.

History in captivity[edit]

In the circuses of Ancient Rome, exotic beasts were commonly pitted against each other. The contest of the lion against the tiger was a classic pairing and the betting usually favoured the tiger.[5][6] A mosaic in the House of the Faun in Pompeii shows a fight between a lion and a tiger.[7] There are different accounts of which of these animals beat or killed the other, throughout time.[2][8][9] Although lions and tigers can be kept together in harmony in captivity,[10] conflicts between the two species in captivity, ending up in fatalities, have also been recorded.

Tigers defeating or killing lions[edit]

Titus, the Roman Emperor, had Bengal tigers compelled to fight African lions, and the tigers always beat the lions.[11] A tiger called 'Gunga' that belonged to the King of Oude killed thirty lions, and destroyed another after being transferred to the zoological garden in London.[12] A British officer who resided many years at Sierra Leone saw many fights between lions and tigers, and the tiger usually won.[13]

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 fair fight 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 big and hungry, 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 ten feet long, over four 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."[9] 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 1,500.00 lb (680.39 kilograms). The battle was to happen after the tiger recovered from its wounds.[2][9]

Accidental fights[edit]

The most recent account of a fight in captivity happened on March 2011, where a tiger at the Ankara Zoo attacked a lion through its enclosure and killed the lion with a single paw swipe.[14] "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.

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.[15]

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.[16]

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).[17] Other cases are discussed or elaborated upon, in the Section "Accidental fights in captivity" below, and in "Expert opinions".[8][17][18][19]

Accidental fights[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.[18]

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.[19]

In December 2008, a 110.00 kg (242.51 pounds) male lion killed a 90.00 kg (198.42 pounds) tigress at the zoo in Jeonju, Korea, by suddenly biting it in the neck when the tigress jumped down to the trench.[20]

At a Circus in Detroit, 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.[21][22]

Competition in the Asian wilderness[edit]

Asiatic lions and Bengal tigers coexisted in places in India (or, in the extended modern sense, the Indian subcontinent)[23] such as the Bengali and Punjabi Regions, until the late 19th century. A few reports of clashes between them have been made, though it was not clear which cat regularly beat the other.[4][24][25][26] 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.[17] Today, Asiatic lions are found in Gir Forest National Park in the State of Gujarat.[27] Bengal tigers are found in other places, like Sariska Tiger Reserve[17] and Ranthambore National Park[28] in Rajasthan, and the Bengali Sunderbans.[29]

The possibility of conflict, between Asiatic lions and Bengal tigers, has been raised in relation to the Asiatic Lion Reintroduction Project in India. The project 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,[30] which was reported to contain some tigers that came from Ranthambore Park, including one called 'T-38'.[4][28] Concerns were raised that the co-presence of lions and tigers would "trigger frequent clashes".[31] 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 big Bengal tiger could beat a big Asiatic lion, given its weight advantage (See the Section Comparative size below). However, lions are social, and may form fighting groups, unlike tigers, which are usually solitary, and it is believed that a group of lions or lionesses is more than match for a solitary 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, the lions would have to be translocated there as intact groups, rather than as individuals, according to Doctor Craig Packer.[4]

Countries reported to have had Asiatic lions and Caspian tigers were Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. In the Soviet Union, lions occurred in the eastern part of the Transcaucasian region (in an area extending from foot-hills in the east, to Tbilisi in the west), and Caspian tigers (which were closely related to Amur tigers of the Russian Far East) occurred in the Caucasian and Turkestani regions, including the area of Tbilisi, either as residents or intruders.[32][33][34] Caspian tigers were reported to have intruded territories, like those of Baku and Tbilisi, from other places, like that of the Talysh Mountains and Lankaran Lowland.[32] However, the sources do not necessarily say if they competed in the same habitats in those countries, or not.[32][33] Big Caspian tigers apparently had a weight advantage over big Asiatic lions, if lions that inhabited places like Afghanistan, the Caucasus and India, in the past, were not significantly bigger than their modern counterparts in India (See the Section Comparative size below).[24][25]

Physical comparison[edit]

Comparative size[edit]

Comparative profiles of the lion and tiger[35]


The Siberian and Bengal tigers represent the largest subspecies of the genus Panthera.[36] Male Ussurian and Bengal tigers weighed 180.0–306.0 kg (396.8–674.6 pounds), and 180.0–258.0 kg (396.8–568.8 pounds), respectively,[24] with reliably measured specimens weighing up to 465.0 kg (1,025.1 lb) in captivity and 384.0 kg (846.6 lb) in wild,[37] and 388.7 kg (857 lb)[38] respectively. Male Caspian tigers weighed 170.0–240.0 kg (374.8–529.1 pounds).[24]

The largest African lion on record in the wild weighed 313.0 kg (690.0 lb).[39] The average weight of males is 175.0 kilograms (385.8 lb) for the Asiatic lion, 186.0 kilograms (410.1 lb) for the African lion,[40][41][42] 196.0 kilograms (432.1 lb) for the Bengal tiger and 176.4 kilograms (389 lb) for the Siberian tiger.[43][44] The average weight 221.2 kilograms (488 lb) measured for the Bengal tiger excluded any stomach content while the average weight 186.0 kilograms (410.1 lb) measured for the African lion included stomach contents,[41][45] and a lion may eat up to 30.0 kg (66.1 lb) in one sitting.[46]

In contrast, the recorded weights of the smallest subspecies of tigers are less than those of the lions,[25] except for any of these tigers that weighed 150.0 kg (330.7 lb) or more. Male Balinese tigers weighed 90.0–100.0 kg (198.4–220.5 pounds). Male Sumatran tigers weighed 100.0–140.0 kg (220.5–308.6 pounds). Male Javan tigers weighed 100.0–141.0 kg (220.5–310.9 pounds). Male South Chinese tigers weighed 130.0–175.0 kg (286.6–385.8 pounds).[24]

Male Indochinese tigers (150.0–195.0 kg (330.7–429.9 pounds))[24] are similar in weight to male Asiatic lions (160.0–190.0 kg (352.7–418.9 pounds)).[25] Male African lions, which are today divided into the East African, Northeast Congolese, Southeast African, Southwest African and West African subspecies, and possibly an Ethiopian subspecies,[47][48] bar the Atlas lion (which was thought by some people to be the largest and most powerful lion and African felid[9]), weigh 150.0–225.0 kg (330.7–496.0 pounds), with some large lions exceeding 225.0 kg (496.0 lb), in the wilderness of Africa.[25][39]


African lionesses weigh 120.0–182.0 kg (264.6–401.2 pounds). Asiatic lionesses weigh 110.0–120.0 kg (242.5–264.6 pounds).[25]

Amur tigresses weigh 100.0–167.0 kg (220.5–368.2 pounds). Bengal tigresses weigh 100.0–160.0 kg (220.5–352.7 pounds). Caspian tigresses weighed 85.0–135.0 kg (187.4–297.6 pounds). Indochinese tigresses weigh 100.0–130.0 kg (220.5–286.6 pounds). South Chinese tigresses weighed 100.0–115.0 kg (220.5–253.5 pounds). Javan tigresses weighed 75.0–115.0 kg (165.3–253.5 pounds). Sumatran tigresses weigh 75.0–110.0 kg (165.3–242.5 pounds). Balinese tigresses weighed 65.0–80.0 kg (143.3–176.4 pounds).[24]



Between the pegs, male Amur tigers measured 2,700–3,300 millimetres (8.9–10.8 feet). Male Bengal tigers measured 2,700–3,100 millimetres (8.9–10.2 feet). Male Caspian tigers measured 2,700–2,950 millimetres (8.86–9.68 feet). Male Indochinese tigers measured 2,550–2,850 millimetres (8.37–9.35 feet). Male South Chinese tigers measured 2,300–2,650 millimetres (7.55–8.69 feet). Male Sumatran tigers measured 2,200–2,550 millimetres (7.22–8.37 feet). Male Javan tigers measured about 2,480 mm (8.14 ft). Male Balinese tigers measured 2,200–2,300 millimetres (7.2–7.5 feet).[24] Male African lions measured 1,700–2,500 millimetres (5.6–8.2 feet).[25]


Between the pegs, Siberian tigresses measured 2,400–2,750 millimetres (7.87–9.02 feet). Bengal tigresses measured 2,400–2,650 millimetres (7.87–8.69 feet). Caspian tigresses measured 2,400–2,600 millimetres (7.9–8.5 feet). Indochinese tigresses measured 2,300–2,550 millimetres (7.55–8.37 feet). South Chinese tigresses measured 2,200–2,400 millimetres (7.2–7.9 feet). Sumatran tigresses measured 2,150–2,300 millimetres (7.05–7.55 feet). Balinese tigresses measured 1,900–2,100 millimetres (6.2–6.9 feet).[24] African lionesses measured 1,400–1,750 millimetres (4.59–5.74 feet).[25]

Height at the shoulder[edit]


Bengal tigers measure 90 to 110 centimetres (3.0 to 3.6 feet).[49]

Male lions may measure about 123 centimetres (4.04 feet) (Nowak and Paradiso, 1983).[25] Asiatic lions measure about 3.50 feet (107 centimetres).[50]


Lionesses measure 107 centimetres (3.51 feet) on average (Nowak and Paradiso, 1983).[25]


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

Of the felidae, excluding hybrids like ligers,[51] lion's skulls rival those of tigers in size. Apart from their sizes, the skulls of lions and tigers are generally similar.[32]


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.[52]

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 with the two sexes only interacting for purposes of copulation.[52]

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 the small female Balinese tiger skulls have cranial volumes as large as those of huge male southern African lion skulls.[53][54] Balinese tigresses weight between 65–80 kg (143–176 lb)[55] while the southern African male lions (which may be Southeast African or Southwest African) have an average weight of 189.6 kilograms (418 lb), representing the largest living lions.[41][56][57]

Bite force[edit]

Tigers have been shown to have higher average bite forces (such as at the canine tips) than lions.[58] The bite force adjusted for body mass allometry (BFQ) for tiger is 127 while that for lion is 112.[59] Tigers have a well-developed sagittal crest and coronoid processes, providing muscle attachment for their strong bite.[60] 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,[60][61] probably because tigers need to bring down larger preys alone than lions, which usually hunt large preys in groups.[61]

Paw Swipe[edit]

A swipe of a tiger's paw may crush a cow's skull.[62]

However, during an organized fight between a Barbary lion and a Bengal tiger, whereas the tiger's paw-swipes were faster and lighter, the lion's paw-swipes were slower and heavier. The tiger's paw-swipes could outnumber those of the lion three-to-one. Otherwise, the lion's paw-swipes, with their brute forces, hurt the tiger's head, caused deeper cuts to the tiger's hide than those of the tiger to the lion's hide, and pushed the tiger off, causing it to stumble for about twenty feet, or made the tiger retreat from the aggressive lion sometimes. The more agile tiger was able to charge back at the lion one final time, and frantically scratch the lion to death, using both fore and hind paws, but only after resting and thinking. Despite the lion's wounds, before it died, it was able to throw the tiger off again, and the tiger had to recover from its injuries, before it could have a fight with another animal.[9]



A male African lion's roar can have a fundamental frequency of about 195 Hertz, whereas that of a lioness' roar may exceed 206 Hertz.[63]


A lion's roar can reach 114 decibels/meter (McComb et al. 1994; Peters and Wozencraft 1996),[25] and can be heard 8 km (5.0 mi) away, making it the loudest of the cat family.[64] A tiger's roar can be heard up to 3 km (1.9 mi) away.[24]

Expert opinions[edit]

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 mentions that since he first began mixing the animals, 25 of his tigers were killed in the circus arena, but there hasn't been a single lion casualty.[8]
  • Renowned naturalist and conservationist of India, Kailash Sankhala writes in his book Tiger that the tiger would be unable to get close to lion's vital joints because of his thick mane, but that the tiger would be vulnerable to the lion. He mentions once an Indian prince organized a fight between a lion and a tiger. In that case, the lion killed the tiger. Sankhala opined "that a tiger is no match for even single lion of equal strength." [17]
  • Dave Hoover, the animal trainer for Cole Bros. Circus, mentions that "lions are better fighters than tigers," and that some of their circus tigers were killed by lions [65]

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."[66]
  • 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."[67]
  • 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."[68]
  • National Geographic Channel's documentary The Last Lions of Asia mentioned that a Bengal tiger has a weight advantage of 50 kilograms (110 lb) over an Asiatic lion, and can kill the lion in a fight.[69]
  • 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."[70]

Mythical character comparison[edit]

18th-century naturalists and authors compared the species' characters, generally in favor of the lion.[71] 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."[72] Charles Knight, writing in The English Cyclopaedia, disparages the opinions of naturalists Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon and Thomas Pennant in this context, stating that "...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."[71]

The lion's mane[edit]

About the lion's mane, Knight wrote that "The lion has owed a good deal to his mane and his noble and dignified aspect; but appearances are not always to be trusted."[71] In fact, a study was done by scientists Craig Packer and Peyton West that claimed that the mane of the lion is strictly for mating purposes. Darker-maned lions were more often picked by females to breed, while light-maned lions weren't so lucky. This may prove that a lion's mane does not purposely help in a fight, and might even hinder the male lion, slowing it down when it attacks, according to Packer and West.[73] However, Kailash (1978) believed that the mane could defend part of the lion's body, in a fight against the tiger,.[17] Moreover, in an organized fight between a Barbary lion and a Bengal tiger, the tiger tried biting the lion's neck, but it could not, due the mane blocking its teeth, and interfering with its respiratory system.[9]

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'.[74] 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" (God's lion conquers).[75] 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.[75]


English literature compared their battle strengths.[76] The poets Edmund Spenser, Allan Ramsey, and Robert Southey described lion victories.[76] In the view of a 19th-century literary critic, these contests established "sovereignty of the animal world."[76]


In Paalai, a Tamil film, there is dialogue about the characteristics of the tiger and lion 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 lion) people.[77]


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