It is commonly said that the lion is the “king of the jungle”. This comes from the fact that it is the only big cat to live in hierarchical social groups. This organization allows it to impose its domination, by hunting in groups and protecting its territory collectively.
Is the lion really the king?
This animal is, however, not devoid of strength and courage. It is a predator that sits at the top of the food chain. And then, the male, adorned with his distinctive mane, is often associated with the image of nobility, a representation reinforced by cultural and symbolic representations throughout history and in different cultures.
The most surprising thing is that the lion does not live in the jungle. Lions live in savannah, grasslands, scrub and, to a lesser extent, open forests of sub-Saharan Africa and a small region in India (Gir National Park, home to the last wild Asiatic lions).
In reality, it is the tiger that inhabits the jungle… But not only that! Unlike the lion, the tiger has a very varied habitat that includes dense tropical forests (which can be described as jungles), mangroves, grasslands, deciduous forests, and even snowy regions, such as those inhabited by the Siberian tiger.
So, tiger or lion, who is really the king?
Comparison in size and weight of the tiger and the lion
Tigers, particularly Siberian tigers (also known as Amur tigers or white tigers), are at the top of the wild felid size scale. These predators can indeed reach body lengths of up to 2.9 meters, from head to tail, for a weight that can exceed 300 kg. This concerns adult males which are more imposing than females.
This impressive stature allows them to gain the upper hand on a wide variety of prey. Among them are the imposing gaurs, also known as Indian bison, the largest wild cattle in the world. An adult can weigh 1 ton. The tiger also attacks the water buffalo which can weigh up to 900 kg.
What about the lion? The length of the lion’s body is quite comparable since it measures up to 2.50 meters from head to tail. Its weight, on the other hand, is far removed from that of the tiger: an adult male can weigh “only” 250 kg. If he can attack a giraffe, an animal which, as an adult, exceeds a ton, he prefers to target young people or sick individuals. It also attacks African buffalo, large herbivores which can weigh up to 900 kg. But he does not hunt these large animals alone.
The tiger seems to be winning over the lion.
Strength comparison between lion and tiger
Tigers possess impressive muscular strength, particularly in their front legs, which are equipped with powerful muscles allowing them to deliver deadly blows to their prey. This ability to inflict serious injury is fundamental because tigers are capable of overpowering animals heavier than themselves.
Tigers’ muscle distribution is optimized for bursts of power to pounce on their prey in an instant and maintain a firm grip until the prey is immobilized. This brute strength is complemented by retractable claws and canines that can reach a length of 10 cm, which make tigers veritable killing machines.
The lion’s collective hunting game does not require similar strength. So the lion’s strength is not as developed.
Jaw strength in big cats is important. Although tigers and lions have extremely powerful jaws, there are notable differences in their bite strength.
Tigers generally have a greater bite force than lions. Studies measuring this force have shown that tigers can exert pressure of around 70 kg per square centimeter. In comparison, a lion’s bite force is estimated to be around 45 kg per square centimeter. Although this strength is considerable and more than enough to kill the prey they usually feed on, it is less than that of a tiger.
Can a lion take on a tiger?
The natural habitats of tigers and lions do not overlap, making it impossible for them to meet in the wild. Tigers are mainly found in Asia, while lions live in sub-Saharan Africa. Tigers and lions therefore do not meet naturally and therefore do not confront each other in the wild. The only occasions where tigers and lions might meet would be in artificial circumstances, such as zoos or reserves where both species are kept in captivity. However, such encounters are strongly discouraged and rare, as they can be stressful and dangerous for the animals.
Tigers are often considered to be more agile than lions. This agility is partly due to their solitary lifestyle, which requires them to rely on their ability to navigate and maneuver in dense environments like forests and jungles to hunt. Tigers can sneak silently, jump great distances, and make sharp turns to catch prey or avoid obstacles, demonstrating their great agility.
In natural history, there has been a period when the ranges of tigers and lions may have overlapped, notably in the Middle East, where Asiatic lions once existed in greater numbers. However, the disappearance of lions from these regions due to human activity and habitat transformation means that any potential interactions between these two big cats would be relegated to the distant past. Today, conservation efforts aim to protect these species and their natural habitats, rather than orchestrating encounters between them.
Tiger or lion, who is faster?
In terms of speed, lions and tigers can reach impressive speeds, but only over short distances. Lions can run up to 50-60 km/h when hunting. Although tigers are generally less associated with high-speed running due to their preference for ambushes in denser environments, they are capable of reaching similar speeds when pushed.
Lions arguably have a slight advantage in maximum speed over short distances, due to their need to hunt in groups and coordinate rapid attacks against fast-moving prey like zebras and wildebeest. But both species are more suited to explosive sprints than long chases, because they tire quickly.
Now that you know everything about the tiger and the lion, it’s up to you to choose your champion!