Mountain lion versus wolf: who’d win?

The question is perhaps a little fanciful because in reality the wolf is dominant over the mountain lion as they are a pack animal. It seems that the wolf drives away the puma as they are outnumbered by a pack of wolves. They scare pumas. Wolves are dominant to pumas in most encounters as revealed by a study (see base of page). The infographic shows the hierarchy.

This overall dominance of the wolf seems to allow an individual wolf push an individual male puma off its kill as seen in the image below by Mark Elbroch/Panthera.

A young male mountain lion (follow the red arrow) in northwest Wyoming just pushed off his kill by the wolf in the foreground
A young male mountain lion (follow the red arrow) in northwest Wyoming just pushed off his kill by the wolf in the foreground. Photo by Mark Elbroch/Panthera
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Is the puma’s apparently meek behavior partly to do with the fact that the puma has to be cautious and avoid the risk of injury in a fight with another predator? It is rational for the puma to let their kill go to hunt another day than risk serious injury in defending the kill and not be able to hunt again leading to starvation.

Also, the puma has been described as a retiring animal. This means they can be shy and content to retire or play safe unless forced to take alternative steps.

One-to-one fight

The consensus would be that in a one-to-one fight between a mountain lion and a wolf, the cat would win because overall they are stronger, more athletic and have better weapons. But how often does this happen? Rarely, I suspect.

Scavenging mountain lion kills

One step down the food chain the coyote often scavenges mountain lion kills as do foxes, pigs, bears, bobcats and pigs. This is dangerous for the scavenger as the mountain lion may be nearby.

Studies in Idaho and Montana report that bobcats and coyotes are sometimes killed by mountain lions when scavenging. In Idaho 79% of mountain lion kills were scavenged by coyotes.

The study referred to

Elbroch and Kusler (2018), Are pumas subordinate carnivores, and does it matter? PeerJ 6:e4293; DOI 10.7717/peerj.4293

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