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Welcome back to Bodhispeak! Today, let’s explore one of the old legends that we often refer to. Why do we consider the lion as the king of the jungle? Yes, it is at the top of the food chain, but it definitely is not the strongest or the biggest of the wild cats around. Pound for pound, the average tiger is a larger animal, faster, more lethal and equipped with higher intelligence than an average lion. Besides, the lion does not actually live in the jungle! Its the tiger that lives in the jungle, while the lion lives in the savanna or grasslands!
So, why do old sayings still equate a lion with strength, bravery, courage as in ‘fought like a lion’ or ‘has a lion’s heart’ and not any other animal – be it a tiger, elephant, hippopotamus or a crocodile? Why is the lion more represented than any other wild animal in national emblems or Royal Coat of arms of various countries, which include the UK, India, Netherlands, Luxemborg and Bulgaria? Let’s look at some possible reasons!
1. By its very appearance, a male lion is distinctive among all the felines. With a flowing mane that figuratively resembles a crown, it indeed stands out! The manes of the male lions give them a very royal look, and makes them appear much larger than they really are!
2. The lions always move as a group, called a ‘pride of lions’. The leader male within the pride lords over the rest of the lions in the pride, like a king! In fact, a male lion is inactive for as high as 18-20 hours a day and gets the lionesses to do all the actual work of hunting for the pride! The leader of the pride commands the respect of the rest of the pride. A lion with his pride of lionesses is very much like the king with his harem of queens! In contrast, the tiger is virtually a recluse, lives alone and has its own territory in the jungle that it guards fiercely.
3. Given the strength of numbers, a pride of lions can bring down animals that are much larger than themselves, which include an elephant, giraffes or a hippopotamus. There are videos on Youtube of a pride of lions conquering these larger animals, who probably would not be bothered by an individual tiger!
4. The lion is the more battle-hardened wildcat, having to fight other lions to establish supremacy over their prides. The tiger in comparison, is not keen on getting into battle with its near-equals, and generally would avoid it.
5. The lion’s roar is considered one of the most frightening sounds in the wild…or for that matter anywhere! The roar is equivalent to 114 decibles which would be 25 times as much as your lawn mower, and on a still night can be heard 7 to 8 kilometres away!
6. More than any other, one key reason for the title of King of the Jungle being conferred on the Lion is its attitude. The lion lives in the open in the grasslands, and uses its team strength for its hunting, while the tiger predominantly relies on stealth. So one is considered the king while the other is the thief! Besides, the pride of lions normally only hunt their prey if they are hungry or if under threat of attack. They don’t hunt for fun – there are videos showing a herd of deer passing by near a contended pride of lions without feeling threatened. On the contrary, the tiger would hunt down anything that it comes across, even when it is not hungry.
Of course, this debate is more hypothetical than a real one, as in the wild, it is very unlikely that lions and tigers would have to face-off against each other, given their habitat preferences! Even in case they do, the tiger will have to contend with a pride of lions and not a single one…so, no prizes for guessing as to who will be the last one standing!
So, while I personally prefer the tiger for its majestic look, its brilliant stripes, its graceful walk and sheer strength, there are some clear reasons why the lion takes the cake when it comes to the title of the Lord of the Jungle! Whatever be our personal preference, both these majestic felines are unfortunately endangered, and we are probably seeing the last of them in the wild. I do hope the conservation efforts of various Governments are able to increase the population of both of them for future generations to enjoy and marvel!