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Big Cat Shootout – Lion vs Tiger vs Mountain Lion vs Jaguar vs Leopard

Big cats come in all shapes and sizes, and they range all over the world. They can be found from Africa all the way across the Pacific Ocean to the Americas. Whenever you think of “big cat”, you are most likely thinking about a lion. However, there are other big cats out there that also qualify as lions. Some of these include the american mountain lion, jaguar, leopard, and tiger!

American Mountain Lions (Cougar)

Mountain Lion
Courtesy California Department of Fish and Wildlife

The american mountain lion, also known as a cougar, is commonly found from Canada down all the way to South America. They hold the title as having the largest habitat range of any mammal in the Western Hemisphere. Other names that people know the american mountain lion by include puma, panther, and catamount. Surprisingly, the american mountain lion is not a lion at all! This big cat is more related to cheetahs than it is lions. If you were to encounter a mountain lion in the wild, you would, understandably, panic, but as it turns out you do not have anything to worry about. The diet of a mountain lion usually consists of small mammals, such as rabbits, raccoons, beavers, or squirrels. Occasionally, the mountain lions will go after larger prey like deer. However, reports of mountain lion attacks on humans is rare.

In certain parts of the world they are viewed as a nuisance species, because they kill domestic farm animals. They are actively hunted by farmers, because of their impacts on livestock. However, this has not reduced the numbers of mountain lions by any means, because there are currently over 30,000 mountain lions in the wild. This number may even be greater than we think, because mountain lions are solitary animals. They prefer to live on their own away from other mountain lions and people. As a result, human interactions with mountain lions are at a minimum.

People may confuse the american mountain lion with the extinct american lion. The american lion has been extinct for over 11,000 years, and used to live in North America. It was reported to have been one of the largest cats to ever exist! However, scientists have found that this american lion is not really a lion at all. Research has placed the american lion as being more closely related to the modern day jaguar.


Pondering Jaguar
Courtesy Charles Barilleaux

Jaguars, large and powerful animals, are found in Central and South America. Nowadays, they are mainly found throughout the Amazon rainforest, because of habitat loss. Most people would not think that a jaguar and a lion are closely related, but they are! Jaguars share a common ancestor to lions, so they are a part of the same family group Felidae.

Jaguars also feed differently than most big cats. They prefer to utilize rivers to catch their prey. By using the water systems around the Amazon rainforests, they are able to expand their available food sources. Jaguars have been found to consume water prey such as fish, turtles, and alligators. When they are not hunting in a river, jaguars are the ideal ambush predators. They will sit up in a tree until their prey walks underneath. They jump down and bite the neck of their prey before the prey knew what hit them. Jaguars will commonly do this with deer, tapirs, and capybaras.


Courtesy antti.keskitalo

Leopards can be found throughout various countries in Asia, India, and Africa. As with the other big cats, their habitat is being threatened so their numbers are rapidly declining. They used to be found in North America, but these subspecies of leopards are long extinct. Leopards are quite flexible with the environments that they are able to live in. They have been found in habitats ranging from the rainforests to mountainous areas. This is quite difference from the other big cats that prefer one distinct type of living environment!
Leopards also appear most similar in appearance to the jaguar. Leopards and jaguars both have brown and black spots that allow them to blend in with their habitats when hunting. However, one large distinction between the two is that leopards are much smaller in size. Leopards are actually the smallest animal in the big cat Felidae family. They use this small stature to their advantage when hunting. Being smaller allows leopards to be more agile, and able to leap greater distances.


Tiger - Thailand
Courtesy Rob & Dani

Tigers are one of the most recognizable big cats. They are found in Southern Asia, China, and Russia, and current estimates place the number of Tigers in the wild around 3,800. This is a large decline from the 100,000 that existed in the wild in the early 1900’s! Tigers are the largest big cat in the Felidae family. They even tower over lions. The largest tiger was reported to weigh 857 pounds, and was over 11 feet long. Imagine a tiger of that size coming at you in a forest!

Due to their size, tigers will only hunt larger prey. Their diet mainly consists of deer, buffalo, antelope, and pigs. Like jaguars, tigers are very good swimmers and will even go after prey in water. Because of their monstrous size, they have also been known to attack humans if they are injured and having a hard time finding prey. Tigers are solitary animals that prefer to be left alone. The only time that tigers will come together is when it is in the middle of mating season. This also places tigers at a disadvantage in the wild, because with such small numbers left it is difficult for tigers to find one another.


Big Cat Shootout Male Lion
A male lion in Etosha National Park in Namibia

Last, but most certainly not least, are the lions. Lions are known as the kings of the jungle, because they are able to dominate over all other animals. Lions used to be found all throughout Africa before human colonization. In recent times, lions are limited in their geographic range due to habitat destruction. They now tend to only be found in the Saharan desert and parts of southern/eastern Africa.

Lions differ from the other big cats, because they are not solitary animals. Lions prefer to live together in family groups called “prides” which consist of 1 – 3 males and roughly 10 females. Although lions seem ferocious to humans, they are quite affectionate amongst themselves. They will commonly groom and play with other lions in the pride. Because lions live in groups, only certain lions are tasked with hunting. In prides, female lions will hunt for the pride at night. They will hunt large animals, such as wildebeests, zebras, buffalo, and giraffes!

Who Would Win in a Cat Fight? 

Many people may be wondering who would win in a physical match if pitted against each other. Although their habitats tend not to overlap, it is interesting to think about which big cat would win a fighting match with each other.

Right off the bat, mountain lions and leopards would not stand a chance. Both mountain lions and leopards are on the smaller size, and therefore lack the strength of the other big cats. Although a smaller stature means that the cats are more agile, it also means that they lack the strength to take down a larger cat. In the end, they would not have the ability to deliver the final blow to one of the other two cats. That now leaves the jaguar, tiger, and lion.

A fight on land would wind up coming down to the tiger and lion. Jaguars are mainly water cats, and they do not have the same land advantages that tigers and lions have. On land, it is a tough call whether the tiger or lion would win. Tigers are larger in size, but lions are pack animals so they have the advantage of numbers on their side. In the end, it is likely that the lions would win this encounter.

A fight in water is a different story. Lions would be at a disadvantage when hunting in water, so it would come down to a tiger and a jaguar. A tiger has such a large size advantage to the jaguar that it is most probable that a tiger would win.


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One thought on “Big Cat Shootout – Lion vs Tiger vs Mountain Lion vs Jaguar vs Leopard

  1. SwiftChronicle April 30, 2020 at 2:29 pm

    Why didn’t you have snow leopards on this list? They are a seperate species from the normal leopard, and the closest living relative to the tiger. Snow leopards are amazing big cats.

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