Do Lions Live In the Jungle? What Is The Deadliest Big Cat?

Lions and tigers are arguably the most mythified animals in the world and have inspired countless blockbuster films including Lion King, Madagascar Life of Pi, and The Jungle Book.

Ironically, despite all the prevailing myths and legends of both animals, most people remain uninformed about the true natures and lifestyles of both animals. 

For instance, there’s an overwhelming number of people who think that lions and tigers co-exist in the same jungle environments, or that the lion is the ‘king of the jungle’. 

If you also thought the same, then you are at the right place today.

By the time you’re through with this article, you will be much more informed, and hopefully more conscious of the roles and importance of tigers and lions in our global ecosystem. 

The classic Disney film; Lion King, brought into vogue the image of lions as ‘Kings of The Jungle’.

However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Do Lions Live In the Jungle?

Lions don’t live in jungles. If we’re going by the strict definition of the word, which typically means a dense forest or greenland. They predominantly live in the savannah grasslands of Africa and tropical grasslands of Asia. 

This is not to mean that the Kings of Beasts cannot live in jungles as there are considerable numbers of “jungle lions” in Ethiopia, specifically in the Harenna Forest and the Kafa Biosphere Reserve, both of which qualify as jungles.

Nonetheless, sightings of jungle lions are extremely rare, and even scientists are conflicted on whether they are part of the greater African lion species, or are a subspecies on their own. 

Also, contrary to urban legends, lions technically can’t be ‘kings’ as their social structures are predominantly egalitarian and have no set power hierarchies.

So, basically, Disney (and most commercial films) have it all wrong in their depictions of lions.

Check Why Do Lions Live in Groups? 

Where do the lions live?

Generally, lions inhabit the vast scrub forests and lush savannah lands of Africa and the wild grasslands and deciduous forests of Asia. The majority of the lions in existence are found in Sub-Saharan Africa, with some small populations being recorded in India. 

While most African countries had lion populations a few decades ago, 26 countries (most of them being West African) have lost their entire populations within the last 30 years, leaving only 6 countries with notable numbers.

Out of the 6 countries, which are all in East and Southern Africa, Kenya and South Africa have the highest numbers.

Tanzania, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia have smaller but comparatively sizable concentrations. 

The West African subspecies, which is closer in appearance to the Asiatic lions than to fellow African lions, has nearly gone extinct, with only 250 members left.

These can be found in small concentrations in Nigeria, Cameroon, Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Sierra Leone. 

The Asiatic lion, which originally inhabited the rich, wildlands of Western Asia, the Middle East, and Russia is now only found in India (the Gir National Park in specific).

In June 2020, the Indian government announced that there were an estimated 674 Asiatic lions in the country, which despite being a relatively small number, was an almost 30 percent increase from the numbers reported in 2015.

Remarkably, India is the only country in the world to have both lion and tiger populations.

However, the Asiatic lions and Bengali tigers don’t currently inhabit the same territories but there have been attempts to bring them together.

The most recent, and notable attempt was in December 2017 where the Asiatic Lion Reintroduction Project sought to transfer several lions from Gir National Park to the Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary, which was known to have several tigers.

The project was shelved after animal experts predicted frequent clashes between the two cat species, especially during dry seasons when prey was scarce. 

What big cats live in the jungle?

For the uninitiated, the big cat family typically consists of the aforementioned lions and tigers, together with jaguars, leopard, puma, and snow leopard. Apart from African lions and Bengal tigers, the rest of the big cats do live in jungles across Africa, Asia, and the Americas. 

Notably, leopards have the largest distribution in the big cat family, with populations in Africa, Asia, Middle East, and the Caucasus.

They are also more flexible in terms of habitat than the rest of the cats, as they can live and do well in savanna, rainforest, deserts, and riverine forests. 

Snow leopards, which are basically a type of leopard found in high alpine areas, are among the toughest members of the big cat family as they can survive in the harshest, most hostile conditions on earth.

They are mostly found in the numerous mountain areas of Central Asia, particularly the Himalayas and other snowy mountains in Russia, China, Nepal, and India. 

Puma, or mountain lions, together with the jaguar, are the only big cats found in the Western Hemisphere. They are specifically found in forests, swamps, and chaparral areas of North and South America.

As their name suggests, mountain lions tend to avoid areas with no topographic and vegetative cover such as flatlands and grasslands. 

Jaguars are arguably the most well-known jungle cats due to their overwhelming presence in the Amazon basin.

They also appear, albeit in smaller numbers, all across Central America where they can also be found in the American savannah and along major rivers.

Matter of fact, jaguars are generally very good swimmers and are commonly seen hunting fish and turtles on Central American beaches. 

Last but not least is the tiger – the fiercest, largest and strongest member of the family – and the undisputed King of the Jungle, literally. Unlike the other big cats, tigers are almost exclusively known to live in forests, particularly the tropical and evergreen forests of the Indian subcontinent. Indeed, all the 13 tiger range countries are in Asia, including eastern Russia. 

What is the deadliest big cat?

Tigers are the deadliest and most dangerous of the big cats due to their sheer strength and size. Over the last 100 years, tigers have claimed more human lives than any other big cat, and are responsible for more direct attacks on humans than any other mammal.

Apart from the aforementioned factors, the other thing that makes tigers deadly is their solitary nature, which makes it hard to track their activities and subsequently stop them from encroaching into human settlements. 

After tigers, the other cats that are likely to attack and kill humans are lions and leopards, with the latter also known to be solitary hunters like tigers. 

Why Lion is not king of jungle?

As we mentioned earlier, lions aren’t the king of the jungle because they…don’t live in the jungle!

And even if they did live in the jungle, they would more likely be behind elephants and tigers in the pecking order, as these are relatively bigger and smarter than lions. 

| Additional reading: Do Lions Eat Elephants?

Which animals can kill tiger?

Apart from humans, lions are the only other mammals that can kill tigers. And even then, it would take about 2-3 adult male lions, and 2-4 females to come close to killing an adult tiger – according to Craig Packer, a renowned biologist at the University of Minnesota. 

Other animals that have been known to kill tigers include crocodiles, pythons, and cobras. Although cases of confrontations between these animals and tigers are very rare.

It is also worth noting that tigers can also kill other tigers either with an aim of protecting their territories or to impress, and possibly mate with, females. 

Which dog can kill a lion?

In a one vs one scenario, the chances of dogs – of any breed – killing a lion are extremely slim. This is because lions are much bigger, stronger, and agile than dogs, with wild lions being especially menacing, due to their experience hunting fast and strong prey like buffaloes. 

To put it in perspective, the average weight of a male lion is 190 kg while the largest known dog breed, the Caucasian Shephard, has an upper weight of 100 kg.

This means the average lion is almost twice as heavy as the largest dogs in the world. 

Can a gorilla kill a lion?

It is very unlikely that a normal gorilla would kill, or even come close to killing a lion. However, Silverback gorillas, which are bigger, stronger, and more intelligent than other gorillas can actually kill lions in their best days. 

Like the lions, silverback gorillas are supremely powerful creatures, with the average adult males being about 5’5 and 6 feet tall and weighing anywhere from 130 to 226 kgs.

In comparison, the average lion is 8 feet long and 190 kg heavy. This basically means that in a one on one fight, the two animals would be pretty evenly matched, which means that the setting of the battle will be the key determinant of the victor. 

For instance, if they fight in an upper mountainous region (the gorilla’s habitat), the gorilla can use their innate skills in assembling and using makeshift weapons like rocks and trees to land a potentially fatal blow to the lion.

If they fight at night, the lion would have an overwhelming advantage since gorillas, like their human cousins, can’t see well at night. So really, it’s all a matter of luck and environmental advantages. 

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