What about lions makes them such a well-loved and admired animal? It may be their persona, not simply because of their distinctive mane. While looking at one, there is an image of courage, reality, intelligence, intuition, and poise in your mind’s eye: all the ingredients for becoming the undisputed king of the jungle.
This is odd since tigers are giant, stronger, and faster than lions and should dominate them. But it’s not so. Go track down some tiger/lion interactions…there have been many over the years (Google ‘tiger kills lion’ for plenty of examples). And you’ll find that time after time, the big strong tiger is just frustrated by its inability to bring down a more miniature, weaker lion.
What’s going on here?
The answer is that competition does not operate equally among all animals. It’s governed by rules, and those rules are determined by each individual animal’s competitive value. Lion cubs have far greater competitive value than tiger cubs, even though they are smaller.
Why? Because a lion can be easily matched to the pride of other lions that it was born into. That means survival depends on getting along with the others in satisfaction…and finding ways to develop alliances and consensus. In short, to be successful, one needs to develop the skills of a politician.
And there is one thing that keeps lions in power: cooperation. Tigers also have the same need for cooperation…in the pride of tigers.
But because they are solitary animals, fighting and pushing themselves upwards in their hierarchy with sheer strength and intimidation, they do not value teamwork as much as lions. To be successful, they must constantly fight alone and hunt alone.
So the competitive value of a tiger cub is relatively low compared to a lion cub. The world will not be given to the tigers…they have to take it.
Tigers are born fighters; lions are born politicians.
Is a tiger stronger than a lion?
The answer is yes and no. A tiger is more potent than a lion if its strength, size, and speed are harnessed to the right kind of endeavor.
So would you expect this to happen? It does.
Tigers have a unique talent for killing bears, much larger animals than themselves that would not usually share habitat in the wild. Sometimes they kill them with a single blow of their paw; sometimes, it takes a few minutes. To do so, they must use every bit of strength and speed to muster up…and then some.
They don’t have the size, power, or weapons to challenge bears on equal terms, but they use their speed and agility to gain the upper hand before the bear even knows it’s in a fight.
So why don’t they do this elsewhere? Because that kind of endeavor would not be to their biological advantage.
It would take too much energy for an infrequent payoff, which is why tigers rarely, if ever, attack elephants (which have a similar size advantage) or buffalo (which have a much more significant size advantage). They just aren’t worth the trouble.
At the same time, what makes a lion so successful in the wild?
Despite being smaller than tigers or bears, lions rarely get eaten by anything they can’t handle…simply because of their strategy.
They always work in teams, so they never have to choose between killing an animal or being killed by another predator. They’ve got the strength and weapons of a tiger…and the speed and agility of a lioness.
In short – lions are political animals. And that’s why tigers don’t end up as jungle kings.
Why are lions the king of the jungle when tigers are more giant?
Lions are among the few cats living in bands or pride, not in pairs or in solitude. Their survival depends on developing political skills and adapting to group dynamics.
It’s a matter of competitive value: lion cubs have a relatively high value because they can be raised by an entire pride of lions – their mothers or aunts.
Panthera tigris, the tiger, is also an intelligent and formidable predator. But it lives alone. That means that its cubs have relatively low competitive value…and are more likely to be killed by other prey animals than become adults themselves.
If you’re going out on your own…you have to be very good at what you do. If not, you will probably end up as someone else’s dinner.
There are a few examples of tigers living in pride or bands of their own, but they don’t seem to be the rule – and when they do live together with other tigers, it is usually only related to females. Tiger cubs don’t have any more survival value in the group than anyone else, and they are even less likely to reach adulthood than a lion cub is.
A pride of lions is usually a much more formidable force than one or two individuals…the lioness will ensure her cubs get fed every day. A tiger mother needs to feed herself and probably won’t be able to do it if she’s providing for everyone else, too.
There are a few exceptions, like the black tiger of India – but they’re unusual in the extreme. In general, tigers are solitary animals that need to be completely self-sufficient; lions live in pride that can share the burdens of survival.
This means that a tiger will have to be very good at what it does or won’t survive…while lions can often get by on group effort and political maneuvering.
According to the law of competitive value, a Panthera tigris living alone would need to kill more than ten cubs a year to be as successful as a single lion cub living among a pride of lions. That’s why cats are not bison, and whether their kings of the jungle is entirely dependent on which group dynamic you live within.
It’s also why gorillas can’t rule the world. Their social structure depends on brute force and personal strength, which would not be well-adapted for the tasks of group living; it’s a solitary strategy that only allows them to survive independently.
A gorilla would need to be nearly indestructible to compete with a lioness or a tiger, and even then, it wouldn’t be able to compete with its group.