Cave Lions Vs Modern Lions: Who Would Win In A Fight?

Written by Austin S.
Published: May 27, 2022
Image Credit Popova Valeriya/Shutterstock.com
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Lions are believed to be native to Africa. This statement is true for modern lions, like the West African lion and the Barbary lion. However, there is a species of ancient lions found in Europe, the cave lions. Both species are similar, from being in the Felidae family to their communication techniques. 

There is the question of who wins in a fight between both animals. What happens when two kings of the jungle engage in battle? This article will present an accurate description of both species and use this to reasonably deduce who will win in such a contest.

Discoveries and Fossils – Where It was Found

Cave lions have been discovered as far back as 1810. These discoveries were made from Eurasia to North America. They were of tracks and bones, therefore, limiting the information researchers could extract. In 2008, a stack of bones identified as a cave lion’s was discovered in Anyuisk village in Russia.

The first well-preserved cave lion fossil was found in 2018 in the Yakutia province in Russia. The cave lion was a cub that died and was preserved in ice. The cub was a female named Sparta and still had furs on it. Not far from this discovery, another cub, a male, was also found in the ice about 50 feet away. In 2017, a cave lion cub was discovered frozen on the Tirekhtyakh Riverbank in Russia. These fossils are dated between 28,000 and 30,000 years old.  These are still the best-preserved samples of a cave lion discovered to date.

A North American Cave Lion skeleton
Cave lions weighed as much as 700 pounds.

Extinction – When Did It Die Out?

The European cave lion went extinct around 13,000 years ago, during the late Pleistocene era. According to studies, a decrease in the availability of prey may have had a key part in the species’ demise. Researchers found evidence of these lions skinned for their pelts. This contributes to a hypothesis that cave lions were also hunted into extinction by humans.

Description & Size

Cave lions have the scientific name Panthera leo spelaea. Cave lions were giant animals that shared similarities with tigers. These similarities include thick striped fur and round-shaped skull and ears. These lions are also called European cave lions or Eurasian cave lions.

In a migration pattern common to most creatures, lions from Africa migrated to Europe, North America, and Asia. These lions then had to adapt to new environments, which influenced their evolution. Some facts about cave lions include:

  • Height – 3.11ft/ 120 cm
  • Weight – 400 – 770 lb / 200 – 350 kg
  • Length – 6.11 ft/210 cm
  • Attributes – Strength, Stamina, and large size (often called the Mega-lion)

Modern lions have the scientific name Panthera leo. Leo is the Latin word for lion, while Panthera is a Greek word that describes large cats. These lions include the Barbary lion, West African lion, and Cape lion. Unlike cave lions, the genders of modern lions can be distinguished based on physical appearance. Male lions have manes, which describe long and thick hair that grows around their necks, and are slightly bigger.

While the lifespan of cave lions is not known, modern lions can live for 8 to 15 years in the wild. These lions can live longer in captivity, more than 25 years. Facts and figures about modern lions include:

  • Height – 3.5 – 4 ft/ 100 – 120 cm
  • Weight – 300 – 550 lb/ 150 – 250 kg
  • Length – 5.5 – 8.5 ft
  • Attributes – Thick mane, strength

Diet – What Did Cave and Modern lions Eat?

Cave lions and modern lions are carnivorous animals, which means they eat meat. Their specific diet will depend on what is available in their respective domains. Cave lions predominantly preyed on animals like reindeers, mammoths, and bison. These lions were huge and fast, and these attributes helped hunt prey of big sizes.

Modern lions are also carnivores that mainly prey on mammals like wildebeests, zebras, African buffalos, antelopes, and giraffes. Due to their smaller size, modern lions will only take on young ones of large animals like elephants and rhinos. They only hunt large mammals when the opportunity presents itself, or they do so as a pride.

Habitat – When and Where They lived

Cave lions existed during the Pleistocene era into the Early Holocene. Eurasian cave lions migrated from Africa to Europe and Asia. This action might have been a response to the difference in climate in Africa.  It is also believed that cave lions lived in forests, as some are found close to habitats of herbivores.

Modern lions can be found all over Africa. They can be found in savanna areas, open plains, and dry forests. The availability of animals to prey on usually determines the habitat of modern lions. These lions get most of their hydration through their prey. They only drink water when they get a chance to. Thus, these lions will select their habitat based on where prey abounds.

Unlike cave lions, modern lions use sneak tactics to attack prey. These lions are small enough to hide in tall grass. Tall grasses also serve as shade for modern lions in open planes. Thus, they will seek out habitats in a region that provides these. Generally, lions have high adaptability to different habitats, provided there are enough animals to prey on.

Threats And Predators of Cave and Modern Lions

Cave lions were large and strong animals, making them almost immune to being preyed on. Based on what we know about modern lions, the threats to cave lions could have been similar. Specifically, cave lions are exposed to many threats from birth, including starvation and adult male lions they aren’t related to. It is presumed that these lions were hunted to extinction by humans. Thus, the greatest threat and predator cave lions faced were humans.

Modern lions face a variety of threats, with most coming from humans. Usually, a lion isn’t hunted or attacked except it’s alone. Hyenas are a threat to lions as a good number of them can kill a lion, and they have a rivalry. Lions can get injured, especially while hunting large prey or preys with harmful defense mechanisms. However, these threats do not compare to that humans pose to lions. Loss of habitat to human activities, trophy hunting, and poaching is causing an increasing decline in the population of lions.

African Buffalo (Syncerus caffer) being caught by Lions (Panthera leo).
African Buffalo (Syncerus caffer) being caught by Lions (Panthera leo).

iStock.com/jez_bennett

Similar Animals to The Cave lion

Similar animals to the cave lion include:

  • Lynx – A lynx is a member of the big cat family but a solitary type. This big cat is found in forests of North America, Europe, and Asia.
  • Tiger – Tigers (Panthera tigris) are members of the big cat family but the strongest of them all. These cats have a distinct orange/brown coat, white marks, and black stripes.
  • Leopard – The Panthera pardus is a beautiful big cat usually found in parts of Asia and Africa. Weighing between 82 to 200lb, this cat also feeds majorly on large animals.
  • Liger – This is an offspring of a male lion and a female tiger. The Liger is a hybrid animal and is the largest of the big cats in the world, measuring about 12 ft tall when on its hind legs.

How fast can they go?

Cave lions are presumed to reach the speed of 30 mph/48 km/h, while modern lions can reach speeds of 49 mph/ 80 km/h. This means modern lions have this advantage and can outrun a cave lion. However, lions generally can’t run for long, even during hunts. Therefore, this might not be an added point for the modern lion. Both lions will be more engaged in swiping claws and aiming to choke off the opponent with their long sharp teeth.

How they communicate

The Eurasian cave lion is thought to communicate using the same means as modern lions. Males have louder and deeper voices than females; hence roaring is the most typical method of communication. The roar might be a sign of hostility and dominance against their foes, or it could be a kind of social connection.

Conclusion

An actual battle cannot be set up between a cave lion and a modern lion. Thus, the facts discussed above will hint at the potential winner. The cave lion is bigger and stronger than the modern lion. Although the modern lion is faster, it can only run for so long. This is because lions aren’t built for this activity.

In a close contact battle, a modern lion is more protected from fatal blows by its mane. This fact is an advantage that a cave lion probably does not have. However, it is presumable that a cave lion has more endurance and strength and can outlast a modern lion in battle. A modern lion can barely defeat a tiger in battle. Thus, a modern lion will likely lose a battle against a cave lion.

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About the Author

Growing up in rural New England on a small scale farm gave me a lifelong passion for animals. I love learning about new wild animal species, habitats, animal evolutions, dogs, cats, and more. I've always been surrounded by pets and believe the best dog and best cat products are important to keeping our animals happy and healthy. It's my mission to help you learn more about wild animals, and how to care for your pets better with carefully reviewed products.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

When was the Cave lion Alive?

Cave lions lived between 350,000 to 10,000 years ago. This period was the Pleistocene era.

How Big was the Cave lion

The cave lion was bigger than a modern lion and a tiger. It weighed about 750 lb and measured about 4.9 and 11.5 ft, respectively.