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UB Professors Lend Their Expertise to Analyzing a Catfight of Epic Proportions

The Spectrum

Imagine the lion, king of the jungle and terror of the African plains, taking on the stealthy, lethal predator and stalker of the dense jungles of India, the Bengal tiger, in a fight to the death.

Determining the winner of this catfight is just what the Discovery Channel's "Animal Planet: Lion vs. Tiger" attempts to do, with the assistance of two UB professors.

Frank Mendel, associate professor of pathology and anatomical sciences, and Scott Woodward, director of engineering design services at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences traveled to New Zealand to lend their expertise to the debate.

The episode with Woodward and Mendel first aired on the Discovery Channel on March 28 and will air again at 9 p.m. April 6 and midnight April 7.

Mendel and Woodward were chosen for their work with the Vertebrate Analyzer (VA), a computer-aided design mechanism constructed by a team of scientists from the New York State Center for Engineering Design and Industrial Innovation (NYSCEDII).

According to Mendel, the VA constructs virtual three-dimensional models of any living or extinct vertebrate, that are then made to perform some known or hypothesized behavior.

"In short, it is a model builder, simulator and biomechanical analyzer," stated Mendel in an e-mail. "I'm interested in determining how saber-toothed cats used those impressive teeth. Although we are using the saber-tooth problem as the immediate application, the VA is designed for use on any vertebrate form, function or behavior problem."

Due to the applicability of the Vertebrate Analyzer to the debate of which big cats' bite and claw will triumph in a battle, Discovery Channel signed Mendel and Woodward on. The Vertebrate Analyzer will be used for the entire series to determine whether other animals could possibly perform hypothesized behaviors.

Woodward had his own hypothesis on how and why the VA team was chosen.

"It is the power of Google," stated Woodward. "Discovery Channel did some Internet search for bites, claws and biomechanics of lions and tigers and they came upon the NYSCEDII Web site and found us."

Woodward believes the television exposure will help to showcase the achievements of UB's science and engineering departments.

"It showed the huge breadth of expertise in this place. UB covers such an enormous scope of learning, this is just a small part," stated Woodward.

According to Mendel, in the show, "Animal Face-off: Lion vs. Tiger," the bite force of both cats were calibrated. A model of both cats' jaws were recreated and tested.

"Scott and I are working on ways of determining how powerful bites are by lions and tigers as well as how much force is needed to go through skin and muscle of large prey animals like horses and cows," stated Mendel.

The effect of the cats' claws on the potential prey was also taken into account. By monitoring the motion of the cats in natural history films, the Vertebrate Analyzer was able to analyze the speed at which the claws struck, Mendel stated. The result was a simulation of the impact of mechanical claws on a raw flesh reproduction modeled after the rump of a typical deer, goat or horse. The rest of the fight simulation was based on attributed behaviors of the lion and the tiger.

In the end, the simulation concluded that the more aggressive lion would triumph narrowly over the tiger.

However, the simulation might have left out many other factors that could tip the balance in a real fight between these feline titans.

"There were other stuff that they did not show," said Woodward. "It was inappropriate though, it was some old footage where they threw a tiger and a lion into a pit. The lion was more dominant while the tiger just gave up. None of the cats were interested in finishing the other off."

Overall, both experts agreed upon the outcome of the simulated battle.

"Because I know so much on lions and tigers, I agree. But the Discovery Channel made the fight seem much closer than it was, to make it more enticing," said Woodward.

Mendel said he believes a real life fight between the cats would have similar results.

"Although lions and tigers are anatomically virtually the same, male lions regularly fight to attain and maintain pride females. Such fighting is often to the death. Tigers fight, but rarely to the death," said Mendel. "I suspect that male lions on average would be more aggressive and persistent than male tigers, hence would prevail."

According to Mendel, the experience and the results can only have a positive effect on the university and how it is perceived.

"This series is first and foremost for entertainment. If they learn that people in universities, UB in particular, are interested in these kinds of problems and get some idea how these problems are approached, so much the better," said Mendel.

See UB's expertise on display on other episodes of Discovery Channel's "Animal Face-off," which will be shown every Sunday at 9 p.m.

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