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Interspecies Conflict/Bear vs Lion Follow Up


Hi again BK,

Last week in response to Gian on a question titled Interspecies Conflict you said that a Kodiak bear would win against a lion. I agree with that but I was wondering which bear would make the best matchup with a lion? I always thought the black bear would make the best fight but what do you think?

Also which bear would make the best matchup with these following animals?

Siberian Tiger





Nile crocodile (on land)

Kodiak bear vs White rhino (at equal size)?

Thank You

Hello Trish.

Q: Which bear would make the best matchup for a lion?
A: I agree with you.  An American black bear is the closest matchup for an African lion.  One place I address this matchup is in "some more questions" from 5/31/14.  For the most part, I consider brown bears and big cats to be closely matched at close weights, and the black bear is a cut below a brown bear in terms of how formidable it is in combat on a pound-for-pound basis.  Therefore, a black bear will need to have a little bit of a weight advantage over a big cat to be a close match for it.  An American black bear can weigh almost 600lb (the book "The World Encyclopedia Of Animals" by Tom Jackson lists a maximum weight of 594lb, but sources can vary a bit), and an African lion typically maxes out at 550lb.  I would still slightly favor a lion at these weights, and I would consider favoring the black bear once its weight exceeded 20% more than the lions.  For example, a 500lb black bear would be a very close matchup for a 400lb lion.  Big cats can kill herbivores much heaver than themselves (sometimes 2 or 3 times as much), but a typical herbivore won't be able to fight back against a big cat as well as a bear can.  A 150lb leopard has a good chance (even face-to-face) against a 300lb topi, but would struggle mightily against a 300lb black bear.  Once a herbivore is seized by a big cat, its ability to fight back is diminished (can't use its horns and hooves well against a predator hanging on its neck), but a bear in the same situation can use its forelimbs and claws against a big cat even if the big cat has grabbed onto it.  Big cats have the advantages of speed, agility, athleticism, and killing experience (getting into position to land a neck or throat bite) over a bear, but a bear has advantages in physical strength and stamina over a big cat.  Other considerations are what experience each animal has in encountering the other.  American black bears sometimes encounter cougars, but lions don't ever encounter bears.  The weight of each animal is only one determining factor in assigning a favorite in a matchup, and it's really just a baseline.  A 1,000lb grizzly bear stuffed with fish and fat might not be as good a combatant as an 800lb grizzly bear that is simply large and in great shape.  In most big cat vs bear encounters, the big cat will likely be viewing the encounter as a potentially predatory one (but not always) while the bear will simply be looking to drive the big cat away or eliminate it as a competitor (but not always).

Q: Which bear would make the best matchup for a Siberian tiger?
A: The Siberian tiger has attained weights of close to 700lb in the past, and while there's a possibility of some that exist today at weights approaching that, the likelihood is that most are much smaller.  A Siberian tiger is actually "between bears" because it will be favored against a black bear (which will be close to its weight) but won't be favored against a grizzly bear (the next bear up) due to the bear being heavier (about 50% in some cases).  A large grizzly bear can weigh between 800-1000lb.  Siberian brown bears (which Siberian tigers encounter and battle at times) are about the same size as grizzlies.  According to "The Encyclopedia Of Animals" by David Alderton (a different book than the Tom Jackson one), "the strength of these tigers is such that adults can even overpower bears easily".  A Siberian tiger can certainly kill a smaller brown bear and give one close to its weight a ferocious battle, but a significantly heavier brown bear will be too strong for it.  If I had to narrow it down, I would pick a smaller subspecies of brown bear (Himalayan or Syrian).

Q: Which bear would make the best matchup for a Jaguar?
A: There are a few bears that will make a good matchup for a jaguar.  A large jaguar can weigh 300lb (those in the Pantanal region reportedly weigh close to 350lb) and is probably the best combatant among big cats for its size due to its pound-for-pound strength and tremendous bite force.  An American black bear will be too big, but the Asiatic black bear (440lb) will be a close match for it.  The spectacled bear (390lb) isn't at the top among ursid combatants on a pound-for-pound basis, but would be another close battle for the jaguar.  The sloth bear (420lb) can be a fierce fighter and would give a large jaguar a good fight as well.  Some sources list the spectacled bear as being heavier than the sloth bear, but their weights are close.  Depending on which size we use for the jaguar, I would select the spectacled bear or the sloth bear as a closest matchup for the jaguar (and the Asiatic black bear if we use the 350lb Pantanal region jaguar).  I address the sloth bear vs jaguar matchup in "Fights/Confrontations" from 9/14/13, the Asiatic black bear vs jaguar in "None" from 11/2/13 (in this one I assign 350lb as the weight of the jaguar), an American black bear vs jaguar in "Interspecies conflict" from 1/25/14, and a spectacled bear vs jaguar in "None" from 2/1/14 (again, using a 350lb jaguar).  For a 300lb jaguar the spectacled bear is probably the closest matchup.

Q: Which bear would make the best matchup for a leopard?
A: A male African leopard can reach 200lb in weight.  A sun bear, the smallest bear at 145lb, will be too small (even though it would be a decent battle).  The sloth bear and the spectacled bear will be too big.  A giant panda can reach 280lb or more, and will probably make the closest opponent for a leopard.  Giant pandas are usually peaceful and don't engage in many fights, but they are strong animals with powerful jaws and sharp claws.  They can be aggressive if threatened.  The giant panda is probably the closest bear matchup for a African leopard (a sun bear would be a close matchup for an Amur leopard).  I address the leopard vs giant panda matchup in "Epic Battles" from 1/9/15.

Q: Which bear would make the best matchup for a cougar?
A: A large cougar can weigh 220lb or more, and is about as formidable as a leopard (not as robustly built, but a bit heavier).  Cougars sometimes encounter black bears, and African leopards do not encounter bears (leopards in Asia do, however).  A cougar and a leopard make a very close cat vs cat matchup, so I'd probably use the giant panda as the closest bear matchup for the cougar as well.  

Q: Which bear would make the best matchup for a gorilla?
A: A large silverback gorilla can weigh as much as 460lb.  Gorillas do not encounter bears.  Gorillas aren't practiced at taking on other large animals outside of their own species, so they aren't quite as formidable as they appear to be.  I have assigned the giant panda as a close matchup for the gorilla in the past, but it depends on how you look at it.  The giant panda's presence of claws makes up for the weight difference in it and the gorilla, but a gorilla would probably succeed in driving a panda away in a realistic conflict.  A serious battle would be close, though.  The spectacled bear isn't as good at fighting as a brown bear or even a black bear, but it might actually be as good a matchup for the gorilla as the giant panda will be.  I would slightly favor a gorilla (overall) to get the better of a giant panda in a hostile situation, but I would favor a spectacled bear over a gorilla.  I'd probably place the gorilla somewhere between these two bears.  

Q: Which bear would make the best matchup for a Nile crocodile (on land)?
A: Most prime Nile crocodiles weigh between 500-1,000lbs, but some very capable individuals can approach a ton in weight (which is more than any bear).  A Nile crocodile on land isn't nearly as formidable as it is in the water because it's stamina is poorer and its mobility is limited.  The American black bear sometimes deals with the American alligator, but this bear will be too small to handle a large Nile crocodile.  A grizzly bear will have the physical tools to dispatch a crocodile on land, but won't have any experience doing so.  Bears have very good stamina, and that would be a huge advantage for one against a crocodile.  The thick limbs of a grizzly bear will hold up better to a crocodile's bite than the more slender limb of a herbivore or a big cat, and the bear will be able to continue fighting effectively on most occasions even if its seized by the reptile's jaws (which is likely because a bear doesn't have the same lateral quickness as a lion or a tiger).  The great strength and long claws of the grizzly bear will give it the means to injure the crocodile in certain areas of its body.  A Kodiak bear or a polar bear will be large enough to impede the crocodile's movement with its weight while dishing out damage (especially a polar bear), and either will be favored against a Nile crocodile on land.  A 1,000lb grizzly bear will be a reasonably close matchup for a 2,000lb Nile crocodile on land, but it's lack of a specific killing technique like tigers and lions have will hinder it against the larger animal (bears generally kill by clawing, biting & shaking, etc.).  I would probably use a grizzly bear as the closest matchup for the Nile crocodile.  Check out my answer from 12/14/13 ("None") for this matchup, and my answer from 4/10/15 ("None") for a Kodiak bear vs saltwater crocodile matchup.  

Kodiak Bear vs White Rhino (at equal size): The Kodiak bear will be at least 25% taller at the shoulder than the white rhino at parity.  Kodiak bears aren't used to tackling large animals on a regular basis, and a white rhinoceros of equal weight would have too many advantages.  The rhino's tank-like build (with very tough skin) will make it hard for the bear to get a good hold of it with its paws, and the dangerous horn (the longer of 2 on its nose) will be a colossal obstacle.  The Kodiak bear won't have the lateral movement sufficient enough to avoid the horn, and its paw swipes and bites won't have enough of an impact to match the rhino's offense.  While the bear's actions might lead to success against an equal-sized moose or elk, they won't be enough to overpower a rhino.  White rhinoceros wins.

Best regards.

Interspecies Conflict

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Questions regarding animal conflicts within realistic or unrealistic settings are welcome; my strength lies in medium-to-large species. Small animals (including birds of prey), prehistoric animals, sea creatures, and domestic dog breeds are usually within my scope, but to a lesser degree. I can't confidently answer hypothetical questions about human vs animal, arachnids, insects, or amphibians, but I am willing to field them nonetheless.


From a young age, I have been interested in animals. Starting with the original Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom and World Book Encyclopedias, I have seen many animal shows and documentaries and have read multiple books on the subject. I have a solid understanding of the physiology of many animals and interspecies conflict in general.

Associate degree in unrelated field; biology classes in college.

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