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How Do Lions Hunt and Kill Their Prey?

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Lions are magnificent symbols of Africa, known for their fearsome roars and beautiful manes. But how do lions hunt? Read on to learn how lions hunt their prey.

Lions are magnificent symbols of Africa, known for their fearsome roars and beautiful manes. But how do lions hunt? Read on to learn how lions hunt their prey.

What Do Lions Hunt Most?

So, what kind of prey do lions generally hunt? The answer isn’t straightforward because lions’ prey is largely dependent on what sort of animals are available in their particular habitation area. Generally, the scrub country, which lions tend to favour more than anywhere else, provides them with many different kinds of herbivores.

Do Lions Have a Favourite Prey?

Their favourites are wildebeest, zebras, antelopes, gazelles and waterbuck. They do, though, also have a fondness for warthogs and have been known to lie in wait outside their burrows for hours on end. That said, if a lion is hungry enough and cannot find its preferred food, it’ll resort to eating whatever it can find, including fish.

They also target other large animals, such as buffaloes and giraffes, though they do so with great difficulty and enormous risk to their own lives. Indeed, many lions injure themselves when they try to control bigger animals. It’s not uncommon for an injured lion to be unable to partake in any future hunts after such an encounter.

Do Lions Hunt More at Night or Day?

Most hunting done by lions is under cover of darkness; in the gloom of an African night, they can easily observe and stalk their prey without the threat of detection. It’s actually quite common for lions to sit and observe their prey during daylight hours, usually just before sunset. But they mostly wait until after dark before launching an attack.

Similarly, if the landscape is illuminated by bright moonlight, they’ll wait until it’s obscured before attempting any sort of hunt. The main reason why they do this is simply that their typical habitation is devoid of cover. Often in the daytime, a lion will begin closing in on a potential victim but will subsequently give itself away, resulting in the prey escaping easily. Lions that live in areas with thicker cover are able to do more of their hunting in daylight hours.

Other hunting that occurs in sunlight is directly related to the activity of a particular prey species. For example, when zebras or gazelles drink from lakes or rivers during the heat of the day, their presence often produces a flurry of hunting. But usually, most stalking by lions is done just after sunset, or during the middle of the night, several hours before dawn.

Lion Hunting Wildebeest

How Does a Lion Hunt?

More than anything, lions rely on their sight to help them hunt. Experts have observed individuals stalking under vegetative cover, occasionally sticking their heads high up out of the cover to keep track of a particular animal they may be stalking. In the process, though, they do sometimes give themselves away inadvertently.

Lions occasionally detect their prey through hearing. They frequently react to the sounds of animals walking or moving through water and set out to investigate. There have also been examples of lions utilising their sense of smell to aid in hunting. But generally, lions hunt only what they can see and are thus not particularly adept at detecting prey in the same way wolves are, for example. It’s quite normal for a large group of herbivores to pass right by a pride during the day due to the fact that lions normally use daylight hours to snooze.

How Successful Is a Lion’s Hunt?

As you can probably tell, lions’ senses are not the greatest in the animal kingdom. In addition to the fact that their senses are not especially sharp, there are several other reasons why lions are not quite as proficient at hunting as other predators. As well as blowing their cover, they pay little heed to the wind’s direction, which frequently allows their scent to be carried ahead, thus alerting their prey to possible danger. However, despite these obvious inefficiencies, prey is so plentiful in most of their range that these shortcomings are almost irrelevant.

In Eastern and Central Africa, the great herds of herbivores vastly outnumber the lion prides. Generally, they kill off about one out of fifteen of the zebras, gazelles, and other animals in the area. Not only do lions have little effect on the populations of their prey, but they also contribute little in terms of controlling their numbers. In fact, the number of herbivores taken by lions in Africa only represents the amount that would be lost in the region’s next drought.

As well as having a plentiful supply of prey, other factors help to make up for some of the lion’s hunting deficiencies. Their inattentiveness to the wind does not discourage potential prey from coming into sight. This is because, at certain times of the year, the scent of lions is detectable by other wildlife throughout much of the region, particularly near any water sources. So it would be utterly impractical for the herbivores to avoid these areas just because they picked up a lion’s scent.

By human standards, lions are quite fast. But when compared to fleet-footed herbivores, they are rather sluggish, thus justifying the existence of the pride.

By human standards, lions are quite fast. But when compared to fleet-footed herbivores, they are rather sluggish, thus justifying the existence of the pride.

Only by working as a team were these lionesses able to tackle an animal as large and dangerous as a cape buffalo.

Only by working as a team were these lionesses able to tackle an animal as large and dangerous as a cape buffalo.

Why Do Lions Hunt in Packs?

Another reason—or, to put it more accurately—the most important reason that lions are able to find enough food is that they usually do their hunting cooperatively. They will stalk their victims for up to an hour, but fifteen minutes is more the norm before deciding to pounce. Normally, several lions circle the herd they are attacking, slowly driving their victims towards some of their fellows hiding in tall grass. These lions, usually females (also known as lionesses), then attack their prey from the sides or the rear.

Cooperative hunting also makes up for another significant problem that lions have compared to other predators: their lack of speed. By our standards, of course, these mighty creatures are anything but slow, as their top seed is around 30mph (~48km/h), but they can only sustain it for about one minute. Indeed, they rarely pursue prey for more than 100 yards. By working in groups, they are able to tackle prey that would otherwise prove too fast or elusive for them.

Lions also gain another advantage through group hunting when they have killed an animal too large for one to eat alone. With an entire pride partaking in the consumption of food, not only does more food go to more mouths at one time, but it also allows the pride to avoid the problem of having to guard or store their food.

Similar problems are frequently encountered and dealt with by other big cats, such as leopards and tigers, who often find ingenious ways of hiding their kills from competitors. Leopards, for example, often stash their kills in a tree, while tigers will remain in the vicinity of their kill until it’s fully eaten. Lions, being denizens of the open country, simply don’t have the luxury of being able to hide or shelter the food.

They don’t eat every day, although they have often been observed hunting on days they don’t eat. Once a lion has subdued its prey, they begin feasting, focusing initially on the animal’s intestines—the most nutritious part of the meal. After that, the lion gorges on the rest, working forward from the hindquarters. On average, a prey item weighs about 250Ibs (~113.5kg), from which each lion usually consumes about 40Ibs (~18kg) worth.

If they are lucky enough to enjoy a big meal, they will normally dedicate the next twenty-four hours to rest. Such behaviour is common because lions consume whatever food they have, eating as much as 75Ibs (~34kg) in one sitting. Prides have also been observed gorging themselves for several hours and then moving and doing very little for the next three or four days. By the fifth day, though, the hunting itch starts to return; they begin to walk around and resume observing the masses of herbivores dotted across the landscape. On day six, they are again ready to look for food, and a whole new hunt begins.

Prey Escaping Predators

Sources and Further Reading


ram on August 03, 2020:

5 fav animal

Aquamarine on December 12, 2019:

I like this so much I made a roblox game on it

josh on December 04, 2019:

I love lions. Can you pleaes mack more of this pleaes.

Joshua on October 30, 2019:


Sam Styles on May 12, 2019:

I love lions!!!! Everything about them represent power, beauty, passion, love, strength, unity, family, they can be vulgar but also caring for their victim, almost every video I seen of lions taking down a prey, they kill their prey before eating it! Which in me eyes is a awesome feature!

I hate seeing videos of predators eating their prey while it's still alive, its gut wrenching to watch! :(

Harry on January 25, 2019:

what does lions eat for food

Leon Sancho Shima on June 06, 2018:

thanks! this helped me soooooo much with my lions project!!! This made me not get in trouble so im lucky i found this website!!!i would have gotten in detention because the teachers would've thought i lied that i said i know so much about lions but the truth is, i dont really know about lions. Once again, thanks!!!


Leon sancho shima

Rose on March 06, 2018:

this infro helped me with my school paper.


jack on February 28, 2018:

who is the author?

Fong zhe on January 17, 2018:

This is good

gggggggggggftfttttttttt on October 30, 2017:

i do not like this info

Zaton-Taran from California on June 26, 2017:

Truly he is the King of Beasts. The lions ferocity is unmatched; his defense is impregnable, his bravery unconscionable. Thanks for writing this important hub exploring his hunting tactics.

u on June 15, 2017:


Kevyn on March 22, 2017:

Soooo Goooood!!!!!!!!

James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on September 06, 2012:

Thanks for popping by.

James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on June 18, 2012:

Thank you very much Christy, glad you liked it :)

Christy Birmingham from British Columbia, Canada on June 18, 2012:

Well-researched and put together. I vote up, 'interesting' and 'useful'.

James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on June 16, 2012:

Thank you Doctor, and thanks for the follow too, much appreciated.

Dr Funom Makama from Europe on June 15, 2012:

So true

James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on June 06, 2012:

Thanks Sunshine, appreciate the visit. I saw the share on Facebook, so thank you very much for that too. I really enjoyed putting this one together, so I'm glad I've gotten such a great response. Thanks again.

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on June 06, 2012:

Very interesting James. I never really thought about a lions behavior until now. I just always wished I'd never meet one face to face. They are not only beautiful creatures, but very clever. Well done!

James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on June 06, 2012:

Hi Chris- to be honest I've never heard of lions possessing a tooth or claw in their tails, I'll have to look that one up. I agree with you- all cats are truly remarkable creatures, they're probably the closest you can get to a perfect land hunter. Thanks for popping by.

James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on June 06, 2012:

Thank you Tammy, nice to hear off you again, really appreciate your kind words. Thanks for popping by.

Chris Hugh on June 06, 2012:

Is it really true that lions have a tooth at the ends of their tails? That is so fascinatingly weird. Cats are amazing creatures. From big to small, they hardly vary. As if Nature made the perfect creature and sees no reason to alter her masterpiece.

Tammy from North Carolina on June 06, 2012:

I love the photos and seeing the environment of the lion vicariously. This is very well written and shows the regalness of the lions. I enjoyed this one!

James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on June 05, 2012:

Yeah, I watched the Christian story, it's was one of the most heart-warming stories I've ever encountered. Thank you for popping by.

James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on June 05, 2012:

Thank you Rahul and Sgbrown, really appreciate you popping by. Thank you very much.

James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on June 05, 2012:

Thanks Letitia. What I discovered was that the lionesses do the bulk of the hunting purely because of being smaller and faster; plus they're not encumbered by a great shaggy mane, which can cause overheating if the males exert themselves too much. I didn't really come across any references to the males hunting exclusively at night, but it makes sense given what I said earlier. Thanks again.

moonlake from America on June 05, 2012:

Enjoyed your hub. Very interesting. I always watch Christian The lion Story. I've seen it time after time but I still watch it. Voted Up.

Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on June 05, 2012:

Very interesting hub. I always enjoy your animal hubs. Voted up and interesting! Have a wonderful day! :)

Jessee R from Gurgaon, India on June 05, 2012:

Very very interesting and engrossing hub my friend..

loved and enjoyed it

LetitiaFT from Paris via California on June 05, 2012:

This is so interesting. I remember hearing a while ago that the reason it was long believed that only the lionesses hunted was because the males hunt almost exclusively by night, and that it was only a few years back that anyone realized it. Did you come across this difference in hunting schedules in your research? Just wondering if it was ever confirmed.

James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on June 04, 2012:

Thank you Arren, glad you liked it.

Arren123 from UK on June 04, 2012:

Wonderful hub, thanks for sharing, voted up :)

James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on June 04, 2012:

Thank you Vellur, they well and truly are.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on June 04, 2012:

Lions are majestic animals,wonderfully showcased in your hub. Voted up.

James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on June 04, 2012:

Wow, Ann I admire your kind heartedness. I hear people constantly banging on about how they've just purchased a dog from a so called fancy breeder. They've paid hundreds of pounds for an animal they could easily rescue from a shelter. I rescued my jack russell from a shelter- okay I had to pay a small fee. But apart from kennel cough, she's remained healthy for over 13 years.

Ann1Az2 from Orange, Texas on June 04, 2012:

Thanks, JKenny. We used to live in the country where people dumped cats and dogs. I rescued some puppies one day, but I had to call the animal shelter - I just couldn't keep them. I need to write a hub on why people need to get their pets neutered! Anyway, I had to put my foot down several times on all the strays that wondered up. At one time, I had 6 cats, 2 dogs, and a parrot. The cats were all strays.

James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on June 04, 2012:

Thank you very much for the comments guys.

Ann- I admire you taking in strays. We took in a stray cat at work and she was the best cat you could ever hope for. She used to brighten up what were normally dull and dreary days.

KD and Mhatter- Thank you very much.

Christopher: As always, I appreciate your visit my friend. Thank you.

Christopher Antony Meade from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom on June 04, 2012:

Great animals and a great article too. Thanks for that James.

Martin Kloess from San Francisco on June 03, 2012:

very impressive article

KDuBarry03 on June 03, 2012:

Very interesting information and video. It is definitely a never ending war for survival when it comes to this stuff. This is very great information, thank you for sharing.


Ann1Az2 from Orange, Texas on June 03, 2012:

Great hub, JKenny! I love the big cats! I have 4 house cats myself. Way too many, of course, but hey, they were strays and who can resist? Thanks for sharing the nature of the lion - they truly are magnificent.

James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on June 03, 2012:

Thanks very much Katrine, your kind words are always appreciated. Thank you very much.

KatrineDalMonte on June 03, 2012:

Oh wow, what a great hub. Interesting and informative. I see you love nature. Thanks for sharing.