Rumble in the jungle: what animals would win in a fight?

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
May 13, 2021, 1:57 PM GMT+0

And what wild beasts do Americans think they themselves can take on?

The lion is often held to be king of the animals, but is it truly nature’s most fearsome fighter?

Americans in search of answers are well catered for: there is a book series, a video game battle simulator, and even a Discovery Channel documentary dedicated to establishing the outcome of hypothetical animal combat.

Of course, geography and morality get in the way of ever knowing for sure, but a new YouGov study provides the next best thing – the views of the US public.

Our survey puts 34 different animals – including humans – against one another to see which Americans think is the mightiest.

We showed people seven random pairings of animals from the list and asked them which of the two they thought would win in a fight. Animals are ranked by their “win percentage”, that is, how often Americans thought that animal would win in a head-to-head matchup when it was one of the two animals shown.

The results show that the elephant wears the crown in the animal kingdom – but only slightly. Elephants had a win rate of 74%, just fractions of a percent ahead of their single-horned cousins – the rhinoceros – in second place, also on 74%.

Not far behind in third place is the grizzly bear, at 73%. This may raise eyebrows among zoologists, given that grizzlies far outperform their pale cousins the polar bear (ninth place, on 64%) despite the latter being far larger and more aggressive.

Also performing particularly well are tigers (70%), hippos (69%), lions (68%) and crocodiles (67%).

Despite their meme-level aggressiveness, geese come dead last in the survey, triumphing in just 14% of their fights.

Our own species fared little better. Facing an array of the animal kingdom’s toughest and meanest, an unarmed human wins out only 17% of the time in American estimations – better only than the goose.

Man vs beast

But what if that unarmed human was one of our respondents themselves? We took a further selection of animals and asked Americans if they thought they could triumph in battle against them without weaponry.

The results show that Americans aren’t confident in their abilities. Most Americans are convinced they could beat a rat (72%), a house cat (69%) and a goose (61%) in a fight. Nevertheless, 17-24% still feel like they would lose in a struggle with such creatures, with the rest unsure.

The only other animal listed that Americans tend to think they could take is a medium-sized dog, although not even half (49%) are sure of this.

This confidence drops further with the dogs’ size: only 23% of Americans think they could beat a large dog in a fight, with 58% being sure they would lose.

Americans are least likely to think they could beat a grizzly bear in a fight. A confident or foolhardy 6% think they could emulate Leonardo di Caprio’s Revenant character Hugh Glass in taking down a brown bear (although Glass was armed with a dagger). Lions, gorillas and elephants are seen as similarly invulnerable, with only 8% boasting they could beat them.

YouGov data has previously highlighted male overconfidence, but there is effectively no gender difference when it comes to this top tier of opponents – men and women are about as (un)likely to think they could beat grizzlies, lions, gorillas and crocodiles in combat.

The differences start to emerge with wolves and kangaroos, which 16-17% of men think they could beat compared to 9-11% of women. An Australian man came under criticism a few years ago for punching a kangaroo in the face, although it later emerged he was trying to protect his dog.

One in five men think they could beat a chimpanzee (22%) or king cobra (23%) in a fight, while only 8-12% of women feel the same way.

The gap is biggest when it comes to medium sized dogs (which 60% of men but only 39% of women think they could beat) and geese (71% vs 51%).

Methodology (animals vs animals): 1,224 US adults were asked to choose which of two animals they thought would win in a fight in a series of head to head match-ups. On each page they saw two animals with the prompt: “Which animal do you think would win in a fight?” Each respondent saw seven match-ups, and no animal featured more than once. Data was weighted to be nationally representative of all US Adults, 18+. The survey was conducted between April 12-13, 2021.

Methodology (humans vs animals): This YouGov poll of 1,224 US adults was conducted April 12-13, 2021. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all US adults (aged 18+).

See the full demographic results for the humans vs animals data here

Photos: Getty, Devon Gilson-Pitts/Facebook, 20th Century Fox, ViralHog