Tigers Versus Leopards

“Where tigers are numerous, leopards are few”.

The above is an old adage which tells us that leopards avoid tigers as tigers kill them and eat them.

“Leopards are socially subordinate to tigers”. Therefore they try to avoid encounters with the tiger which is a considerably larger animal. There are a number of records of tigers killing leopards.

For example, in February 1988 tigers killed two leopards in Shariska Tiger Reserve, India. One of the leopards was eaten by a tigress. In Chitwan National Park tigers were observed to kill five leopards over a period of 21 months. This is an unusual number of kills of leopards by tigers. It was put down to an increase in the number of tigers together with a loss of habitat at the edge of the park. This forced leopards into the park. The person who recorded these encounters was Chuck MacDougal. He describes one deadly encounter as follows:

“A female leopard and her two small cubs were walking along a path through grassland near the Rapti River, on the edge of the park, when they were encountered by a tigress. The latter killed the mother leopard, dragged her body 75 metres, and devoured everything except the head and front paws. The cubs escaped but returned the next night, when the tigress found and killed them not far from where she had fed on their mother. The leopard cubs were discovered seven metres apart, where they had been dragged in opposite directions by the two small (six months old) cubs of the tigress”.

The above story is fascinating but utterly brutal.

Leopards are found throughout a large part of the tiger’s distribution. Where leopards and tigers coexist leopards avoid situations in which encounters are likely to take place. They do this by preying on smaller animals and hunting when tigers are inactive.

The sort of place where tigers and leopards coexist are characterised by “high prey densities, a wide variety of prey sizes, and structurally complex habitats.”

I have taken the liberty to quote from Wild Cats of the World on pages 347 and 348.

It is quite clear that the tiger is able to kill the leopard almost at will and treats the leopard as prey by eating it. This is less a case of tiger versus leopard but more about tiger killing and eating leopard. It reminds us how powerful the tiger is but that said leopards can be smaller than one thinks. However, there are probably instances of leopards killing tigers but they must be rare and the circumstances exceptional.

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