Bear vs tiger: Watch 2 of nature's heavyweights face off in the wild in India

A bear charges at a tigress on a dirt road at Pilibhit Tiger Reserve in India.
Visitors at Pilibhit Tiger Reserve in northern India witnessed an aggressive encounter between a bear and a tiger. (Image credit: Jitender Govindani)

Visitors at a nature reserve in India recently witnessed an incredibly rare sight, when a bear and a tigress confronted each other in a standoff that very nearly broke into a fight.

The scene unfolded in April at Pilibhit Tiger Reserve, a protected area in India's northern Uttar Pradesh state. Visitors on a safari filmed the encounter and posted a video to the social platform X April 30. The video shows a tigress (Panthera tigris) sauntering down a dirt road and then stopping in her tracks when a bear, which appears to be a sloth bear (Melursus ursinus), emerges from the trees ahead. 

The bear wanders across the road and disappears behind long grass as the tigress watches. Moments later, as the tigress strolls on, the bear reappears and chases after her.

"A rarest of rare sight of a bear charging toward a tigress, captured today at Pilibhit Tiger Reserve," Rajiv Kumar Gupta, a retired government official with the Indian Administration Service who witnessed the encounter, wrote in the post.

In the video, the tigress whips around when she hears the bear charging after her, but she does not attack and instead stands her ground. After a few seconds of the two predators facing off, the bear retreats back into the trees.

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"Apex predators usually have a mutual respect for each other especially if they are of a similar size," Tara Pirie, a lecturer in ecology and conservation at the University of Surrey in the U.K. who was not on the safari at the time of the encounter, told Live Science in an email. "The tiger took time to watch the bear, sizing it up possibly to understand more about it. The bear did not show a particularly aggressive charge from the video so the tiger must have decided it was big enough to stand its ground."

Predators of similar strength and size tend to avoid unnecessary fights, as fighting wastes energy and puts both parties at risk of injury, Pirie said.

In this case, the tigress may have been particularly reluctant to engage in a struggle because she was nursing three young cubs at the time of the encounter and could not "afford any injury," said Jitender Govindani, a professor and member of the academic council at ICBM School of Business Excellence in Hyderabad, India, who witnessed the standoff. Govindani noted the tigress appeared to surrender when the bear charged.

"The tigress lowered her guard and surrendered when the bear got into attack mode," Govindani told Live Science in an email. "Once the tigress surrendered the bear left immediately, as [it] was also not keen to fight and showed aggression just [to] show its readiness to take on the tigress head on if provoked to a fight."

Earlier in April, another tigress and her cubs ambushed and killed a crocodile in Ranthambore National Park, in India's northwestern state of Rajasthan. A video taken by visitors showed the four tigers feasting on the crocodile's carcass.

Sascha Pare
Trainee staff writer

Sascha is a U.K.-based trainee staff writer at Live Science. She holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Southampton in England and a master’s degree in science communication from Imperial College London. Her work has appeared in The Guardian and the health website Zoe. Besides writing, she enjoys playing tennis, bread-making and browsing second-hand shops for hidden gems.