[Viewpoint]Survival of the fittest

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[Viewpoint]Survival of the fittest

As I have worked closely with wild animals for nearly three decades, I am often asked, “Who would win a fight between a tiger and a lion?” This question comes from both men and women, regardless of age and intellectual level. Of course, people think tigers and lions are the strongest and the most belligerent animals. However, the question also reflects the human nature of seeking the result only without trying to learn the characteristics of each species and what makes it strong.

Both tigers and lions belong to the Felidae family of the cats, showing many similarities physiologically and biologically. Their 200-kilogram (441-pound) bodies are immensely powerful and equipped with large, sharp canine teeth; strong jaws with powerful bites; good night vision, which is an essential trait for nocturnal animals; and powerful forefeet with retractable, hooked claws. Their characteristic flexibility and agility amplify their forces, letting tigers and lions overpower much bigger animals.

However, there are as many differences besides their appearances. Their habitats and behaviors are distinct. There are eight subspecies of tiger, three of which are considered to have gone extinct. Tigers are found as north as southeast Siberia and as south as India and Indonesia, inhabiting various climates from mountains, forests, marshes and plains to rainforests. Aside from the mating season and a period of raising offspring, they live alone. For about six months, cubs live under the protection of their mothers. After that, they learn to hunt. By the time they reach two, they are able to live independently and leave their mothers before they are sexually mature.

Tigers like water, capable of swimming as far as 29 kilometers. Their environment can vary from 10 to 10,500 square kilometers. Tigers roam around their domain, travelling up to 60 kilometers a day.

Unlike the solitary tigers, lions live in packs in the plains of Africa. On average, about 15 lions make up a group, with smaller packs of five living together. They create a sphere of influence ranging from 20 to 400 square kilometers, cooperating in hunting. Females are the main hunters and males maintain the sphere of influence and play the role of protecting the group from outside. Females maintain relationships and remain in the group when the cubs grow up. However, male lions have to leave the group once they reach sexual maturity. Once an individual lion leaves his group and lives a nomadic life, it joins or attacks another group to create or expand the group.

The tiger is the prince of the jungle, and the lion is the king of all animals. While they live in different areas and cannot encounter each other in nature, they could both earn the reputation of being the best. However, they both deserve the title. While tigers live alone, they hardly seem lonely. They are active at night but are never sly. They move silently but never hide themselves. Tigers always walk with dignity. Lions have wisely chosen to live in groups, abandoning the Felidae family’s characteristic of individual living to survive in the fiercely competitive animal world. The females cooperate in hunting to get food more easily, and the males lead the females and protect the group against enemies attempting to penetrate the group. Male lions boast a spectacular appearance as well as strong leadership. Tigers and lions are not rivals but winners because they both possess the qualities of being the best.

These days, there are so many frustrating events around us. The economic slump is not the only problem. It seems that citizens are disappointed no matter where they look. If there is no one-shot solution to blow away the frustration, leaders need to at least try to bring forces together. However, they just stubbornly persist with their stance to win without any substantial plans. This year, I hope they realize the way to become winners together.

The writer is the professor of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Shin Nam-sik
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