Who would win in a fight between a rhino and a tiger?

tigerrhinoI got an email from our university press officer earlier this week asking “whether we have a ‘zoologist who could participate in a light-hearted discussion about who would win in a fight between a tiger and a rhino on Friday morning’.” The request was from the local BBC Radio Leeds team who wanted to break up their coverage of the Leeds Rhinos vs Castleford Tigers rugby league Challenge Cup final preparations with some light-hearted digressions. I have resolved to take a more active part in science communication (including this blog), because I see that as a fundamental part of my job (even if it is little-rewarded…) and so I agreed to do it.

For those of you who listened, I was interviewed live by telephone yesterday (Friday 22nd August) around 8.30am and the piece is available below:

dog-96765_640While I always knew the segment would be a bit fluffy, I took the opportunity to talk a little bit about the ecology of the two species: that there are several species of rhinos and tigers, that they occur together in northern India, and that tigers do attack rhinos under some circumstances. I tried to make the point that even a big tiger (300kg is about the largest, and that’s a Siberian tiger that would never encounter a rhino) attacking a full-grown rhino (up to 3500kg) would be like a West Highland terrier attempting to attack an adult human. In fact, that large body size is itself an evolutionary strategy that many animals have evolved to avoid predation.

There is an interesting case in Kaziranga National Park in India, however, where tigers (usually solitary hunters) group together to attack full-grown rhino. This seems to be the product of two unusual circumstances: (i) in the National Park there are high densities of Bengal tigers which means that the formation of discrete territories is difficult, and (ii) male rhino are solitary which make them easier prey than herds of buffalo. The tigers would usually leap on a prey animal (from up to 30 feet away) and wrestle the animal to the ground while trying to bite the nape of the neck or the throat. This doesn’t work with large rhino, so instead it seems that the tigers are content to tire the animal until it gives up.

The final point I wanted to make but didn’t (I should have controlled the interview a bit better) was that there is relatively little chance of rhinos and tigers encountering one another in the wild, mostly because we have killed so many of them. The remaining populations of rhinos and tigers look something like this (stats from Wikipedia articles on tigers and rhinos):

  • White rhinoceros: 17480
  • Black rhinoceros: 2000(ish)
  • Indian rhinoceros: 3000
  • Javan rhinoceros: 100
  • Sumatran rhinoceros: 200
  • Bengal tiger: 2500
  • Indochinese tiger: 350
  • Malayan tiger: 500
  • Siberian tiger: 400
  • South China tiger: 0? (possibly extinct)
  • Sumatran tiger: 500

That means around 27,000 animals in the two groups combined. If Wembley Stadium sells out for the challenge cup final, there will be three times more rugby fans in Wembley than there are rhinos and tigers in the world. If you want to help, here are two great charities: Save the Rhino and Save Tigers Now (WWF).

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2 thoughts on “Who would win in a fight between a rhino and a tiger?

  1. Tigers on mature rhino attacks are very rare. And when day do, it is on cows.

    The great majority of specialists state that the largest rhino is the African white rhinos. It is also a fact that the 2 African rhinos species represent a much greater danger. They are a lot more aggressive, they are much more mobile, their 2 horns are much longer and they use it to combat Lions. There are many examples of male Lions trying frontal attacks on mature rhinos. Tigers very rarely try frontal attacks and when they do it is on safe occasions.

    The one-horned rhino from India is the second largest rhino. Its horn is generally short and many females don’t even have one. This don’t really matter because they don’t used them to defend themselves. Instead the one horned rhinos use their lower incisor tusks. These tusks are perhaps the same size or a little longer and larger than a mature tiger’s canine. They use them as knives but the quicker tiger needs to be very, very close to get injured. Since tigers won’t usually attack by the front, an Indian rhino is much less dangerous. Rhinos from India live in bushes and more often than the African rhinos on uneven ground. So there are occasions were this slower rhino (and gaurs) is also limited by the topography, witch favours the great jumping abilities of the tiger. The one-horned rhino running speed is only 25 km/hr (15.5 mph). The African rhinos speed of 40 km/h (24.8 mph) is much faster. African rhinos live in open spaces, so generally they can move freely in the African landscape. Their horns can be 4 times longer or more than the Indian one-horned rhino’s tusks. They use their horns mainly to impale a Lion and not cut it, this is much more dangerous. The African black rhinos are the third largest and the most aggressive of all rhinos. As a general rule Lions in their surroundings face greater danger than tigers in their surroundings.

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