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In a fight to the death, which would be the victor? Does the lion retain his crown as king of the beasts, or is the tiger the rightful king?........As far as can be ascertained, little, if any records exist of confrontations between lions and tigers in the wild. What records we do have, is of captive specimens. In the circus arena, at least, the lion is, more often than not, the aggressor in any battle with the tiger, according to Clyde Beatty. He has said;
“If what i have witnessed in the arena applies to an encounter in the open, the tiger would try to get away. The lion would pursue him and try to engage him. In an enclosure-and this is based on forty years of observation-the lion is almost invariably the aggressor and the tiger habitually tries to avoid him.”
In the wild, lions fight quite frequently. Living in groups, they must often share meals. Lions are very individualistic, with no set hierarchy, and fights between individuals, over food, is commonplace. However, such fights are scarcely serious. It is their battle with rival lions that can end in tragedy. When lions fight other pride members, they attack the head and neck of the animal, where little injury is likely to result. In fights with rivals they often avoid the mane area, attacking instead the rump and hindquarters of their adversary (view table 1). The battles are serious, and often lead to death.
As can be seen in the above table, the lion, in fights with rivals, often avoid the mane area. Some have concluded the mane, which is not often the area of concentration, in fights between rival lions, offer little, if any, protection. However, i`ve found just the opposite to be the case. All big cats, even lions, fight in a similar fashion, first attacking with the paws, claws extended, directed at the face. The teeth, their most dangerous weapon, can be damaged in the early moments of a tussle, so they opt to use their claws, which may still cause a great deal of damage, if they should be lucky enough to land a penetrating blow, which, in most cases, is difficult to achieve with an adversary that is constantly in motion. So, they opt, in some cases, to grab the head of their opponent, with both paws, claws extended, to use their most effective of weapons, the jaws. In such an instance, they attack the nearest possible target, which, in this case would be the neck. The opponent, in a vulnerable position and unable to launch an effective attack, may turn to his back to deliver, in rapid-fire fashion, swift, slashing kicks with his hindlimbs, in an effort to dislodge his adversary. Such tactics is often effective at getting an
animal to release his hold, as such may cause serious, often life-threatening wounds to the receivers’ belly. Also, lions may, in choosing to attack the neck of their adversary, misjudge the distance, and, instead of biting the neck, as intended, gets a mouthful of mane. So, they have learned, over time, that in attacking the mane, they may, inadvertently, put themselves in a vulnerable position apt to be attacked. So, in fights where the slightest mistake can lead to quick death, they often avoid attacking those areas which offer more risk. Tigers, in contrast to lions, live in the dense forests of asia, where both predators and prey animals alike are more spread out, and competition less extreme. Schaller (1984) has indicated that very little strife exist between tigresses of Kanha, while lionesses, by contrast, are very strictly territorial. He has further maintained that tigers are not quite as competitive when it comes to food. A tiger has ‘priority’ rights if he/she has reached the food first, and others must wait their turn. In this respect, lions are quite different, in which males may appropriate any kills made by the females, should the carcass be smaller than about 100 kg. Male tigers are scarcely as combative as lions. While tigers resist any attempt upon rivals to poach on his terrain, Schaller has mentioned;
“The territories of some animals are so large that they cannot be surveyed readily by the owner, as Leyhausen (1965a) has pointed out, and this seems to be particularly true in the case of the tiger. Strangers cannot, therefore, be prevented from entering the area, because a defense of all boundaries is impossible except by such indirect means as marking with scent. As a result, the presumed territorial system of male tigers appears to be less rigid than that, for example, of many antelopes and birds.”
Fights between rival tigers are often passive, with both animals often neglecting the use of their teeth, as a way of avoiding serious injury. They…..wrestle, by holding each other with both paws, claws extended, or slap at the face of their adversary, though fights over females can indeed escalate to a serious battle where one or both animals are seriously injured (table 2).
Figure 1. tigress injured after a battle with a male tiger.
Tigers would rather avoid a struggle, but can be savage in battle. In a fight with a lion, however, they have been shown to be more cautious and weary of the maned beast. In a battle, they lash out in blind fury, according to beatty, attacking with all four feet, but, unless they actually hit a vital spot, little damage is likely to be done. Clyde has further stated;
“the tiger, lashing out furiously with his great paws and snarlingly baring his teeth, suggests the last words in destructive power; yet there are times when he reminds me of a boxer who fills the air with gloves, striking countless blows yet incapable of scoring a knockout.....of course the tiger knows hot to score a knockout-but not against the lion.”
Studies also seem to indicate that lions have larger paws on average, and bigger claws, based upon comparisons of two captive individuals, of adult age. Tigers are more agile, but this is of little importance in a battle with an animal of which he is frightened, which the lion, who`s aware of this, has an immediate advantage in a fight with a less confident adversary. The lion is a much more calculating opponent, thinking of his next attack, planning his next move. Clyde has said;
“if it were possible to walk into a stadium and witness a fight between these two most powerful of the big cats, first placing a pari-mutual bet on the outcome, i would put my money on the lion. I would be backing a belief that he would win through a combination of superior power and tactics designed to get the tiger to wear himself out. The lion would fight calculatingly, and one of his objectives would be to conserve his strength. One of several ways of accomplishing this would be to avoid becoming paw-weary, a condition that would handicap him as much as arm-wearing depletes a boxer. Paw-clouting is one of the favorite methods of attack of the big cats. it is their form of boxing. Sometimes, as shown in illustration number twenty-seven in the photo section, they raise up on their hind legs when they deliver these blows, which
can be shattering when they connect. A miss can be shattering too-to the animal that misses. A series of such misses can bring on the paw-weariness refered to. From my own observations, the tiger misses much oftener than the lion and therefore is likely to tire faster. By the same token, the tiger leaves himself "wide open" more frequently than the lion. On one of my movie-making excursions to hollywood, one of my toughest lions (sultan the first) was in a scrappy mood-perhaps disliking the role of motion-picture actor-and one by one took on and whipped every tiger in my act. It was an amazing performance since my entire entourage consisted of big, young, powerful animals. So these were not pushovers that sultan defeated. this remarkable lion, feinting like a clever boxer and making his opponents miss, would then send the off-balance enemy sprawling across the arena with a tremendous clout..........occasionally i am told that i am prejudiced on the subject. If i am, it is a prejudice born of experience. The sum total of what i have witnessed in the arena tells me over and over again that the lion is the "king of beasts". Or at least the mightiest of the big cats.”
There are other records of the battles between lions and tigers. An Indian prince once arranged a battle between a lion and tiger, in his palace compound, with the entire encounter being recorded………….the lion ended up killing the tiger. But, it doesn`t always end in a victory for the lion. Kersheri singh, maharaja of Gwalior, once imported 3 pairs of African lions, to be released into the wild. Apparently, one pair strayed into the territory of a tiger. The male lion stayed to fight while the lioness escaped. The African lion`s badly mauled body was found later. however, that seems to be only one of a few battles which the tiger has won, and more often than not, it is the lion which has won the majority of battles. Singh has further staged three duels between lions and tigers, and the lion was always the first to attack, though had to retire after a few smacks from the tiger. But then the tiger never followed up his attack, and the contest would end without either beast injured. But, this does not indicate the lion would have lost, as a similar instance is reported in a which a lion and tiger had gotten into a fight…..however, in this instance, the tiger was killed……..this is taken directly from the book ‘lion`s n` tiger`s n` everything’;
“Although the lion may be king of beasts in looks, actions, and honor, he is far from it in fighting ability. The clash between the lion and tiger invariably ends in a victory for the striped beast, and in several encounters between king Edward, a big blackmaned Nubian, and Dan, a Royal Bengal tiger, the “king of beasts” had moved out second best. Evidently Dan realized the fact, for when the two were in the arena together, it was a constant succession of bullying on the part of the tiger, of cuffing matches in which the striped beast stood on his haunches and slapped the lion with quick, shifting blows, for all the world like those of a lightweight boxer, and of rumbling growls which sent King Edward hurrying to his pedestal whenever he came in the proximity of his enemy. But at last there came a reversal. They were cage-mates, that is, they occupied a cage together, but not in company, if it thus can be explained. A two-inch wooden partition divided them, and while each had half a cage, neither ever was actually placed with the other. For several days King Edward had been “off his feed,” and to tempt his appetite, Lucia Zora, his trainer, conceived the idea of feeding him a live chicken. The fowl was thrust between the bars to squawk and flutter wildly, and at last to be captured in the big claws of the excited lion, which, like some over-grown house cat, began to toy with the tid-bit for a moment before devouring it. But just then, a new element entered, Dan the Bengal. The tiger had scented the fowl and noticed the commotion on the other side of the cage. Frantically he had begun to work at the partition which divided him from the lion; finally in some fashion, he loosened the clamp, and then raised the dividing board, even as a person would raise a window, and rushed through toward the tormented King Edward. But this time the lion did not skulk away. Instead, the beast turned, a raging engine of destruction, and the fight that followed was the fiercest thing
that the menagerie had seen in years. The animal men sought to separate them. It was useless. King Edward had reached the end of his submission, and dan, though his greed, the end of his life. For the lion, disregarding all the usual leonine methods of fighting, suddenly adopted the tiger`s tactics, attacking from a position straight on his haunches. And with both forepaws working, instead of the usual one. The result was that soon the tiger`s claws were tangled in the greasy, heavy, armor-like mane of the lion-and useless. While those of King Edward ripped at the foe until Dan sank to the cage floor, a stricken, gasping, disemboweled thing. Then-and not until then-King Edward ceased his attack, disengaged his mane from the now useless claws of the Bengal, and went back to his feast!”
It seems that the majority of battles would end in this fashion, should they escalate into an alout war. Beatty has said “Occasionally i am told that i am prejudiced on the subject. If i am, it is a prejudice born of
experience. The sum total of what i have witnessed in the arena tells me over and over again that the lion is the "king of beasts". Or at least the mightiest of the big cats.”
There have been other staged battles between lions and tigers, and there are mixed results as to the usual winner, in such cases. Maybe we should accept the words of famous animal trainer, Louis Roth, witness of many lion-tiger brawls, who states neither of the theories are accurate. Sometimes the lion would win, sometimes the tiger.
The end. Written by Damon Ransom.
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