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Interspecies Conflict/Leopard vs Zebra Follow Up

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Question
Hi BK

1. A couple of weeks ago in response to Trish on a question titled VS you said that a Zebra would win against a Leopard. Now I normally agree with your answers but I find this one to be pretty debatable. Now I know that zebras are not push overs when it comes to fighting but I believe a Leopard or most other big cats would prevail over a zebra after a long struggle. What I picture is the leopard jumping on the zebras back and eventually wearing it down and killing it with a throat bite. But I wanna get your thoughts on the subject.

2. How would these animals do against an African Elephant at the same size?

Wolverine

Honey Badger

Wild boar

Jaguar

Leopard

Thanks

Answer
Hello Gian.


1. A couple of weeks ago in response to Trish on a question titled VS you said that a Zebra would win against a Leopard. Now I normally agree with your answers but I find this one to be pretty debatable. Now I know that zebras are not push overs when it comes to fighting but I believe a Leopard or most other big cats would prevail over a zebra after a long struggle. What I picture is the leopard jumping on the zebras back and eventually wearing it down and killing it with a throat bite. But I wanna get your thoughts on the subject.

Here is the answer I gave Trish to this matchup ("VS" from 7/16/16):

"Leopard vs Zebra: A large zebra can weigh 4 to 5 times as much as a leopard.  A leopard is one of the strongest cats pound-for-pound, and demonstrates this strength by dragging large prey items high into trees (to keep the kill safe from lions & hyenas).  Its head is large, and its neck and shoulder muscles are rather pronounced.  A zebra is a common prey target for lions, and a single lioness (twice the weight of a leopard) can sometimes struggle with one.  A zebra will kick with its back hooves to defend itself, and will readily bite as well.  A leopard will have the speed and agility to avoid a zebra's kicks, but will have a hard time pulling this strong equid to the ground.  A leopard can leap toward the zebra's neck in an attempt to acquire a good "throat-bite position", but may have trouble hanging on.  The stamina of the zebra will be greater than the leopard's, and the cat will have a small window of time in which to make the kill.  I give a leopard a decent chance against a zebra up to 3 times its own weight, but not against one 4 or 5 times its own weight.  Edge to zebra."

To compare, here is an answer I gave to Mukul ("animal tournament" from 7/27/13):

"60kg leopard vs 180kg zebra: The leopard is only 1/3rd the weight of the zebra, but its agility should keep it out of range of the zebra's kicks for the most part.  It will need to jump on the zebra and hold on tight while securing a neck bite.  Not as easy task at all, but I would slightly favor the leopard."

I had someone mention on this site after reading this matchup that I tend to underrate herbivores, and I must admit it's easy to do because the abilities of predators can seem so attractive and sensational in comparison to the abilities of herbivores.  I try to be as objective as I can, though.  It's hard to argue against that individual's point of view when many predators are unsuccessful when attempting to capture large prey, but I feel there's validity in the support of either side.  I respect that person's opinion, and I respect your opinion.  A predator will have a successful kill if everything "falls into place" for it, and if things "fall into place" enough times to ensure that predator's survival (even if it doesn't happen most of the time), the predator can be considered a successful one.  It's just that sometimes things "fall into place" for the herbivore in its defense of itself.

In the answer I gave Trish, I used the best representations of each animal at their maximum weights.  A Grevy's zebra can weigh almost 1,000lb, which is 5 times as heavy as a leopard at its maximum weight.  The zebra can also be twice as tall at the shoulder than the leopard.  According to "Wild Cats Of The World" by Mel Sunquist and Fiona Sunquist, "...leopards are quite capable of killing ungulates two to three times their own weight, although they seldom do so."  I certainly believe that a 200lb leopard is capable of killing a zebra 5 times its weight in a face-to-face battle, but I just don't favor it to do so on most occasions.  Even a 600lb zebra would be a handful for a 200lb leopard.  As capable as big cats are, many of their ambushes fail, and the odds are less when they must engage face-to-face.  I can't add much more to the answer I gave, but I can't overemphasize that lionesses have trouble overcoming zebras on many occasions, and that leopards are much smaller than lionesses.  Although African leopards have been known to predate upon zebra from time-to-time, they target these herbivores far less than antelope, suids, primates, and other smaller prey items.  In attacking a large zebra a leopard would need to avoid the "business end" of the equid (the kicking back legs), attack the neck area, and hold on for the ride while applying the suffocating throat bite.  A leopard won't have the strength to force a large zebra to the ground like it does with a smaller prey item, and will need to rely on technique to launch itself into the right position and apply the right grip with its paws and jaws.  The leopard will get tired before the zebra will, so any extended scramble for position will favor the herbivore.  Like all big cats, a leopard can pack a great deal of energy and effort in a short-lived burst, and many can accomplish their goal of a kill in that small window of time.  As I mentioned, the leopard is definitely capable of winning against a large zebra, but the zebra has a high enough level of particular assets (strength, endurance, experience dealing with big cats) that give it the edge over a leopard if the weight difference is too great.  


2. How would these animals do against an African Elephant at the same size?

* a smaller animal scaled up to the size of a large land animal (like the elephant) will likely lose a lot of speed and mobility, and that must be considered here.  If the smaller animals listed here have the same speed and agility in ratio to their body size after being scaled up, their chances to win these battles will dramatically increase.  It won't be fair to grant the smaller animal such a large advantage in a scaled-up fight, so I am going to be as realistic as possible when assessing what abilities the scaled-up aniamls will actually have if this can realistically happen.

wolverine vs African elephant (at parity): A wolverine is one of the strongest mammals pound-for-pound, and can be ferocious when hunting or fighting.  It has powerful limbs, sharp claws, and a strong bite.  The wolverine can kill prey items much larger than itself (mostly those trapped in deep snow or otherwise encumbered), and its supple body enables it to turn quickly or fight off of its back.  An African elephant is immensely strong, has sharp tusks, and a muscular trunk.  The elephant won't be able to use its body weight to crush the wolverine like it would a smaller animal, and its mobility won't be great enough to consistently make precise stabs with its tusks.  The clawing and biting of the wolverine will probably cause more damage over the course of the battle than the elephant's offense will cause to the wolverine.  Wolverines routinely battle animals larger than themselves, but elephants do not.  There might not be a kill here, but the wolverine should get the better of this altercation more times than not.  Edge to wolverine.

honey badger vs African elephant (at parity): A honey badger is similar to a wolverine in regards to how formidable it is on a pound-for-pound basis.  A honey badger has tougher skin than the wolverine (which should help repel the tusks of the elephant) and may be even fiercer.  The honey badger can cause damage to many areas of the elephant (ears, face, trunk, etc.) and won't be physically pushed around by the pachyderm.  The honey badger won't be able to make an easy kill, but may drive the elephant away.  Check out my answer for elephant in musth vs Tasmanian devil at parity ("Mostly dog fights" from 2/9/14).  Close battle; edge to honey badger.

wild boar vs African elephant (at parity): The elephant will be over 20% taller at the shoulder, but it will be slower than the wild boar.  The wild boar's tough hide will protect it better from the elephant's tusks than the elephant's skin will protect it from the wild boar's tusks, and the slightly more maneuverable suid will be positioned to deliver quicker strikes in greater succession.  The elephant will be stronger, however, and may be able to apply enough forward momentum to make the wild boar consider breaking off its attack.  An elephant's great size is its greatest defense (and offense) in the real world, and its ability to stab quickly and effectively with its tusks isn't quite up to par with the wild boar's ability to do so.  I assigned a 50/50 conclusion to this matchup when an elephant in musth was used ("some matchups for you" from 4/11/14).  This one is also close to 50/50; perhaps an edge to the wild boar.

jaguar vs African elephant (at parity): The elephant will measure almost 30% taller at the shoulder than the jaguar.  Jaguars are widely considered to be the strongest cat pound-for-pound, and possesses one of the strongest bite forces among mammals (can crush turtle shells and armadillo armor).  It is agile, quick, and practiced at killing with a bite to the skull or spine.  An African elephant isn't practiced at taking on any animal its size that has a speed and mobility advantage, and would have trouble inflicting injury to an equal-sized jaguar.  The jaguar might be able to apply an effective bite to the elephant's skull if it can hold onto it, but the action won't be as easy with this robust elephant as it will be against a tapir, peccary, or caiman.  If any predator is equipped to take out an elephant at parity, it is the jaguar.  Edge to jaguar.

leopard vs African elephant (at parity): Leopards are powerful cats that often drag heavy prey items (like warthog & impala) up into trees to keep them from other predators.  A leopard's head is large, and its shoulder and neck muscles are impressively developed.  The leopard often engages in skirmishes with other dangerous animals (hyenas, baboons, African wild dogs, etc.), and can fight effectively with its sharp claws and jaws.  The elephant will be the slower animal here, but will probably have a lot more brute strength.  The leopard can kill larger animals with a throat bite, but the girth of the elephant's throat will make this action a lot more difficult that it would on an antelope or suid of equal weight.  I don't see a kill by the leopard here, but the cat will be too quick to be killed by the elephant.  A stalemate may occur, but the leopard's greater ease of motion and more versatile weaponry give it the edge.  African elephants are the most dominant land animal on the planet at absolute weights, but they probably aren't built to deal with equal-sized opponents that possess the skills of the predators matched up against them in this set of questions.  Edge to leopard.


Great questions as always; look forward to more questions and more discussion.   


Best regards.  

Interspecies Conflict

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BK

Expertise

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.

Experience

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.

Education/Credentials
Associate degree in unrelated field; biology classes in college.

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