The grasslands of Africa are home to many unique mammals. Among them are zebras and lions: two of the most widely known creatures from this part of the world. At first instance, breaking down a fight between a lion and a zebra may seem like a futile mental exercise. Lions prey on zebras all the time, right? That’s not quite how things work out in the wild though.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the different dimensions of the lion and zebra comparison and show you why this fight might not be a simple open-and-shut case.
Key Differences Between Lions And Zebras
The key differences between a lion and a zebra lie in their morphology (shape and structure), predatory behaviors, and offensive capabilities. Lions are one of the “big cats” that use their long fangs and claws to attack prey using ambush tactics or endurance predation. On the other hand, zebras are equine creatures that take on their foes with strong bites and kicks with both legs but lack any predatory drive since they are herbivores.
It’s easy to see how these animals differ from each other, but that’s not enough to decide and ascertain which of them is bound to win a fight. We need to look into other factors that are pertinent to the battle between these animals.
Key Factors In A Fight Between A Lion And A Zebra
Just like other fights in the animal kingdom, the key factors in this battle are size, speed, aggression, fighting ability, and defenses. We will examine each of these factors individually and assess each animal with respect to the other. Next, we’ll assign advantages to each mammal, sum them up at the end, and then make a final judgment about which creature has the highest chance of coming out on the top in a fight.
Zebras are bigger in size than lions – the average zebra weighs about 485lbs to 900lbs, has a height of up to 5ft, and a length of up to 9ft long. A lion’s average weight is 550 lbs at maximum and its average height is just 4ft tall while it can grow up to a length of 4.7 ft-8.2 ft long. The size difference is substantial and very important to our analysis. Thus, zebras have a size advantage over lions.
Speed and Movement
Lions are faster than zebras. The average lion can hit a speed of 35 mph, but they can push themselves slightly faster when closing in on prey that they are certain they’re going to catch. Their maximum speed is somewhere between 40 mph and 50 mph. However, they can’t hold that speed for too long, and they only use it when they are almost certainly going to get prey.
A zebra on the other hand can reach speeds of up to 40 mph and can hold that speed for longer than a lion. The difference in their top speeds is minute, but it can be one of the zebra’s defenses when a lion is chasing it down to try to eat it!
Lions have the speed advantage, but zebras have better endurance and can maintain their top speed for longer periods of time than lions.
The most important defensive advantage that lions have is their pride – a group of other lions with whom they live. Very few animals are courageous enough to saunter over to a group of lions and try to attack them. In addition to this, lions are also very fast animals and are quite large for carnivorous beings. Nothing about them invites a challenge.
Zebras have their size and speed to stay out of harm’s way along with the fact that they move in herds. However, lions have better defenses than zebras.
Zebras have many remarkable offensive capabilities, but they don’t use them often since they are herbivores. These animals have sharp incisors and a bite force strong enough to tear down flesh. Sometimes, they will even use their bite to grab and launch an enemy with a sudden jerk of their head. However, the real offensive capability of zebras is their kick. They can kick using both legs at the same time with an estimated force of 3000 lbs which can prove to be deadly for their foes.
Lions on the other hand have overpowering offensive potential. They have claws that can gash foes, paw strikes that stagger enemies, and a bite force of 650-1,000 PSI. While it’s not the strongest bite, these animals have incisor teeth that are almost four inches in length.
To take matters one step ahead for lions, they also have heightened senses. They can smell, hear, and see prey from far away and then move in for the kill. Thus, lions have an advantage in terms of offensive capabilities.
Zebras have little to no predatory instincts and abilities because they are herbivorous animals that graze on grass for nutrition. Lions employ two different kinds of predation. They will engage in ambush predation (taking on their prey from an angle of surprise) when hunting on their own, or as the opening move when hunting with their pride.
Lions can also use endurance predation, which involves striking and retreating with other lions of their pride to wear down the prey until it can no longer resist. It goes without saying that lions have an advantage in predatory abilities.
The final conclusion – keeping in mind all the strengths and weaknesses of both animals – is that a lion would come out undefeated in a fight against a zebra.
Although this shouldn’t come off as a surprise, we feel it’s important to tell you that lions don’t always win these fights. Most of the time, lions hunt in groups to take down larger prey. They ambush a zebra and use their united power to take it down.
However, a lion’s hunts are not always successful. When hunting alone, they can bring down their prey in only less than 20% of all cases. When hunting with their pride, that number rises to about 30%. A lot of the time, they’re kicked and brushed off by their prey.
…but what if it’s one lion against one zebra?
In a direct encounter between just a lion and a zebra, the fight might be different. The lion could ambush the zebra and kill it with a well-placed bite to the neck. However, if the lion and the zebra were to get in a fair fight without an ambush, the battle would be different.
The lion has to get close enough to the zebra to land several attacks to kill the larger mammal. Of course, it is more than capable of doing so, but it only takes one kick for a zebra to knock a lion unconscious. There have been documented cases of zebras kicking lions so hard that they’re forced to let go and sometimes even get injured badly.
The only difference that gives the lion the biggest disadvantage in an encounter with a zebra is that it doesn’t really have the instincts to attack and kill a lion. Naturally, it would always want to flee. So, in the vast majority of cases, a persistent lion is going to take down a zebra. Having said that, zebras aren’t defenseless animals. They have been known to send lions down in a heap after landing a strong kick to the jaw, head, or neck.