Lion vs Tiger comparison
The tiger is the largest of the cats and is a perfect killing machine with a superior combination of power, cunning and agility. On the other hand, A lion has an appearance to frighten even the mightiest of animals. There have been some real fights between the two kings of the jungle. So, what do the evidences and experts (and common sense) say about who will win a fight between the two, or rather, if there are 100 tiger-lion fights which one will have more victories?
The image below gives a vivid comparison of apparent and actual size of these felines. The image is self-explanatory. There are some links to video in this post where, when a lion stands near a tiger, you can have a good comparative view that conforms with the image here. The videos and this image clearly explain why a lion looks bigger even though an average Bengal tiger is actually bigger than an average African lion. The tiger being shown here is most probably an IndoChinese one (going by the color and stripes). Bengal/Siberian tigers are even bigger.
Another size comparison image, taken from National Geographic:
This image compares a 6′ man with a lion (without the mane), a Bengal tiger and a Siberian tiger. Even though it is from National Geographic, I’d say it definitely exaggerates the size of the Siberian tiger!
Here are more size comparisons from National Geographic (clock-wise from top-left: Polar Bear, Brown Bear, Black Bear and Grizzly). Notice that, Grizzly bear has been considered as separate from Brown bear and the Grizzly and Black Bear images are actually the same!
If these size comparisons from National Geographic are to be believed, even a Grizzly doesn’t stand a chance against a Siberian tiger, let alone an African lion!
THE KING OF BEASTS:
Lion is known to be the King of Beasts across most cultures of the world. This is mostly because of a lion’s appearance and partly because of the social structure of a pride and the lion’s role in the pride. A lion does possess a royal look and attitude. Add to that a tremendous roar that can be heard over miles on the Savannah. Also, living in a pride, a lion doesn’t need to hide itself or avoid any other animals including human beings. A lions lives in the open and controls its territory like a true king, sporting a ‘kingly’ mane and heading a pride that feeds him. The Bible of the Christians and the Geeta of the Hindus both mention the lion as the king of the beasts. So it has got accepted as a sign of royalty all over the world from as early as the Roman empire. Have a look at this magnificent lion (Shambala zoo).
[There are a lot of variation in the figures found online. I tried to collect them from reputed instituion and/or govt sources]
- Largest Lion in captivity: 806 lbs (366 kg)
- Largest Lion found in the wild: 702 lbs (318 kg) and 11′ (3.35 m)
- Average size (mode) of African Lion: 410 lbs (186 kg) and 8’10″ (2.7 m)
- ** Lions stand around 1.15m (including mane) at shoulder as opposed to 1m of a tiger **
The King of The Kings:
When you think of a lion, you think of an African lion. The Asiatic ones are somewhat smaller in size and relatively unknown living in the tiger country. There is no significant variation in size among the African lions. In some online forums it is claimed that Ngorongoro Crater lions are the largest sub-specis of lions. But there is no base to that claim.. The Tsavo lions are generally considered more aggressive, but they are naturally maneless.
Choice: African lion (with mane).
Relative advantages over a tiger:
- Thick protective mane. It also makes a lion look much bigger, heavier and taller than it really is. This is of immediate psychological disadvantage to any animal fighting a lion. It’s downright scary to see a lion coming towards you roaring. A lioness, even if it were of similar size, wouldn’t inspire as much awe. From the fight videos, it does seem that the mane is of huge advantage to the lion. In the only fight-video of a maneless (shaved) lion, the lion seemed too easy to beat by the tiger. The mane is the biggest weapon for a lion – both for defence and for scaring off the opponent.
- More massively built shoulders. Both the cats have extremely powerful and muscular ‘shoulders’ and forelimbs.
- Taller structure. This makes the lion more intimidating. Also, this somewhat compensates for the weaker hindquarters.
Here’s a very good video showcasing lions.
________________________________________________ THE AMBUSH KILLER:
Living largely secretive life and attacking preys using stealth, cunning and agility, a tiger is mostly considered a villain (like Sher Khan in Kipling’s Jungle Book). Moreover, the man-eaters in India have further maligned the image of a tiger. Not much is still known about the lives of the tigers in the wild and hence a lot of the information considered as ‘facts’ about tigers are merely informed guesses. Since the chance of encountering a tiger in the wild is way less than the chance of encountering a wild lion, a lot of data about tigers reflect either only a small population of them, or are based on indirect studies, or both. Also, a tiger’s unwillingness to fight without necessity has often been seen as lack of courage and aggression. Look at these majestic Bengal tigers.
[There are a lot of variation in the figures found online. I tried to collect them from reputed instituion and/or govt sources]
The Greatest Cat:
Tigers vary in size as well as in aggressiveness (supposedly, at least), not only across different sub-species but also depending on the region they inhabit. Bengal tigers found in Nepal, Bhutan and in Assam, Uttaranchal & West Bengal (Northern part) states in India (collectively, the tigers of the Terrai and Duars) are larger than Bengal tigers found in Sunderbans and Rajasthan. The Sumatran tigers are supposedly the fiercest but they are the smallest sub-species of tigers. The Siberian tigesr are the biggest, but considered to be less agile and less aggressive than a Bengal tiger. The Bengal tigers are most widely touted as the most skillful and overall best breed of tigers – nearly as big (male ~230 Kg, ~3 m) as the Siberian ones but much more fierce, agile and strong. The Bengal tigers of the Terrai are often bigger than average Siberian tigers (Update on Aug 4, 2007: I’ve found this in many a trustworthy source that the Bengals are now considered larger than the Siberians).
Choice: Bengal/Siberian Tiger.
Relative Advantages Over a Lion:
- Longer and often larger size. Now this is often posed by the people who pick a tiger to win, as a serious threat to a lion. A larger yet more agile body of a tiger is really a serious threat to a lion. But this alone can not be a decisive factor.
- More powerful back legs. This helps a tiger to leap more, to spring from a disadvantageous position and to make sudden moves. This is of tremendous advantage to the tiger. This gives the tiger the ability to rest its weight on the hind legs and make swipes with both of the front legs. Plus, the strong hindquarters allow them to attack from the side and spring from unexpected/disadvantageous corners. Moreover, a tiger makes faster swipes than a lion. Tigers are more agile than lions.
- Skills of ambush attacking, tree-climbing, swimming etc are handy if the going gets tough. Plus, tigers are faster runners. These are all defence mechanisms for a tiger just as the mane is for a lion.
- Longer canines, longer claws and larger paws. These are the ultimate weapons of a cat. Tigers have considerable advantage here.
And here’s a video showcasing tigers. And I found this video to be very interesting. Here is more of Siberian tigers.
Myths About (and Against) Lions and Tigers:
Myth 1: [The lion has a stronger forequarter] The fact is, the lion has slightly more massively built shoulders and the tiger has more developed legs. Overall a tiger is more massively built than a lion. Even pound for pound, a tiger has anatomy-advantage over a lion in the forequarters.
Myth 2: [The tiger hunts larger preys] The fact is, both these cats generally hunt similar sized preys (the size of wildebeast) and both these cats may go for larger preys once in a while. In some areas, these cats get ‘specialized’ in hunting certain kinds of preys. In Nagarahole National Park in India, the tigers prefer to hunt the large gaurs.
Myth 3: [The lion has more bite force] The fact is, pound for ponud, a tiger has more bite force qutient, though the difference is not huge.
Myth 4: [Tigers are more ferocious] The fact is, There has never been such a claim by any scientist or noted animal observer. This is a bizare claim with no base. Both these animals show similar ferocity (of course, ferocity is not quantifiable) when drawn into a fight.
Myth 5: [Lions have larger heads] The fact is, an average lion has (surprisingly) the same size of head as an average Bengal/Siberian/Indochinese tiger. The tiger’s head is just a little wider and shorter, allowing it to have more bite force.
Myth 6: [Lions just fight and tigers just hunt] The fact is, nomadic male lions hunt regularly and skillfully. Even resident male lions hunt sometimes. On the other hand, tigers fight, often to death, with other tigers. Tigers fight fairly often, so much so that around 30% of tiger deaths (for Bengal tigers) occur due to territorial fights. Also, tigers fight with leopards, bears, wild dogs, elephants etc. Most of the tiger vs tiger and lion vs lion fights end after one combatant escapes while some fights in both the cases may result in severe injury or death.
Myth 7: [The lion has better fighting techniques] The fact is, the tiger shows better ‘skills’ of fighting. It can swipe much faster than a lion, can use both the front legs at the same time for making swipes, is faster and more agile than the lion.
THE LIKELY WINNER
Captive animals often behave differently than the wild ones. In a fight between captive animals, a tiger will have the advantage of size and power. A captive lion will lack the fighting experience of a wild one.
Let’s now talk about ‘wild’ animals, ie, both the animals are at their prime and have been captured fresh from their natural habitat and are in good natural condition.
In small pit/cage:
Lion will have a slender advantage if the fight is in a small closed area since it may get the benefit of taller structure and the mane and the tiger may feel the lack of space. Agility may not be a big factor. But it may really depend on the size of the respective animal. If the tiger is significantly larger than the lion, the lion may not get a chance to do much harm to the tiger.
In a large area (forest/grassland or even a large ‘cage’):
Tiger may win easily. The stronger hindquarters come into play here. It helps to keep balance and make fast movements.
If the two animals are ignorant of each other’s presence at the beginning, it will really be a tiger’s game. Siberian tigers are sometimes reported to predate on female/young brown bears. The female bears may be larger than the tigers and as aggressive as the male ones. But the tiger stalks the bears and then and hunts them. In a similar way, if a tiger and a lion are released in a forest/grassland, a tiger’s stealth-attacks may be decisive.
Why The Tiger Has a Better Chance of Winning:
There is a popular notion that a lion is meant for fighting whereas a tiger is meant for hunting and hence a lion will win in a tiger-lion fight. Some people mention that like a pitbull can own larger dogs, a lion can defeat a tiger since, like the pitbull, the lion is meant to be a fighter. This is a bad comparison. That a lion plays the role of a fighter in a pride doesn’t make the tiger a non-fighter and just a predator. A tiger predates AND fights. And that’s why they are way more active than lions. Over their lifespan, a lion fights other lions less than ten times. This may be well less than the number of tiger-fights a tiger has to face over food/mating/territory. A lion may have to fight off hyenas, too. A tiger, on the other hand, fights with leopards, wolves, dholes and black/brown bears over food/territory.
The ‘strength’ analysis is of course an ideal one. A lot of them may prove to be invalid in real fights. Most of the ‘documents’, ‘eye-witness accounts’ and vidoes (though most of them are manipulated to suit the story of movies) show that there is more chance of a tiger winning the fight than a lion winning it. It seems that a tiger might be reluctant to fight at first. But if compelled to, it’s a much better and more powerful fighter than a lion.
Size does matter. An average Bengal/Siberian tiger measures 10 feet and 500 lbs. Can measure up to 11 feet and ~620 lbs. Lions average 9 feet and 410 lbs. Can grow as large as 10 feet and 530 lbs. (Not considering the more extreme cases for either cat). Clearly, tigers have an advantage. Additionally, the build of a tiger provides much more balance and agility. The weight of a tiger is more evenly distributed over its body-length than that of a lion. A tiger’s tail, being heavier compared to a lion’s, makes it easier for the tiger to turn. And if the animal with larger size also has greater agility, it’s the one that should win more fights. Add to that the advantages of bigger paws, faster swipes and longer canines!
An African lion, hailing from a place where it doesn’t get much competition from other animals, attacks from the word ‘go’. On the other hand, a tiger, coming from places where it fights bears, wild dogs etc, assesses the situation first and then goes for the kill. (Ok, lions, too, live alongside wild dogs. But they don’t clash much since lions live in prides. For the same reason, lions rarely fight leopards). For this reason, some animal trainers and experts have mentioned the tiger as an intelligent boxer. Additionally, the Bengal tigers are widely considered as being extremely aggressive when drawn into a fight.
In 100 fights between the two in any natural setting and in non-extreme climate, I’d bet a Bengal tiger will own an African lion 80 times provided there is no bias in choosing the animals. I’d expect an average Bengal tiger of the Terrai (see above) with 530 lbs and 10′, to make a short work of an average South African lion (~410 lbs and 8.5′). Even pound for pound, a tiger is stronger. If it’s a smaller-than-average Bengal tiger, with size and wight similar to the lion’s, it should be 70-30 in favor of the tiger.
Overall, there may be very few really big and aggressive lions that may defeat a Bengal/Siberian tiger, but on an average a tiger will win against a lion almost everytime.