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How Do Lions Hunt?

Updated on February 4, 2017

King of the Beasts

Surely there is no other animal on this planet as majestic as the Lion, especially the big males with their characteristic shaggy manes.
Surely there is no other animal on this planet as majestic as the Lion, especially the big males with their characteristic shaggy manes. | Source

Some of Their Favourites

The plains zebra
The plains zebra | Source
The blue wildebeest
The blue wildebeest | Source
The warthog
The warthog | Source

What, Where and When

The choice of animals that the lion hunts for food is largely dependent on what sort of food is available in their particular area of habitation. Generally, the scrub country which lions tend to favour more than anywhere else, provides them with many different kinds of herbivores. Their favourites are wildebeest, zebras, antelopes, gazelles and waterbuck. They do though, also have a fondness for warthogs and have been to know lie in wait outside their burrows for hours on end. However, 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 with enormous risk to their own lives. Indeed, many lions injure themselves when they try to control bigger animals. It’s not uncommon after such an encounter for an injured lion to be unable to partake in any future hunts.

Most hunting done by lions is under the 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, then they’ll wait until it’s obscured before attempting any sort of hunt. The main reason why they do this is simply because 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 the 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.

Lions doing what they do best on the African Savannah

Senses and Deficiencies

More than anything, lions rely on their sight to help them with hunting. Experts have observed individuals stalking under vegetative cover, occasionally sticking their heads up high out of their cover in order 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 the hunting process. 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 the lions normally use daylight hours to snooze.

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, 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, there are other factors that 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 due to the fact that 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 through picking up the lions scent.

In Pursuit

By our standards, lions are fast. But when compared to fleet footed herbivores they are rather sluggish, thus justifying the existence of a pride.
By our standards, lions are fast. But when compared to fleet footed herbivores they are rather sluggish, thus justifying the existence of a pride. | Source

The Profits of Cooperation

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. | Source

Working as a Team

Another, 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 around 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 in comparison with other predators, their lack of speed. By our standards of course, these mighty creatures are anything but slow, their top seed is around 30mph, but they can only sustain it for around a minute. Indeed, they rarely pursue a prey item 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. Such 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 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 animals 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 from which each lion usually consumes about 40Ibs worth.

If they are lucky enough to enjoy a really big meal, then normally they will dedicate the next twenty four hours for rest. Such behaviour is common, because lions will consume whatever food they have, eating as much as 75Ibs 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 ready once again to look for food, thus a whole new hunt begins...

When the Tables are Turned

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    • zaton profile image

      Zaton-Taran 7 weeks ago from California

      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.

      http://pinstor.us/articles/african-lion-facts-the-...

    • profile image

      2 months ago

      nice

    • profile image

      Kevyn 4 months ago

      Soooo Goooood!!!!!!!!

    • seigfried23 profile image

      seigfried23 4 years ago

      Beautiful lion hub - I couldn't help but watch all the videos. Sent me on a 3 hour trip through YouTube watching other lion vids lol. Voted up!

      https://hubpages.com/education/Wild-Cats-Facts-Abo...

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks for popping by.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

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

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

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

    • Dr Funom Makama profile image

      Dr Funom Makama 5 years ago from Europe

      So true

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      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.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 5 years ago from Orlando, FL

      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!

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      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.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

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

    • profile image

      Chris Hugh 5 years ago

      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.

    • tammyswallow profile image

      Tammy 5 years ago from North Carolina

      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!

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      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.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

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

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      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 profile image

      moonlake 5 years ago from America

      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.

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 5 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

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

    • rahul0324 profile image

      Jessee R 5 years ago from Gurgaon, India

      Very very interesting and engrossing hub my friend..

      loved and enjoyed it

    • LetitiaFT profile image

      LetitiaFT 5 years ago from Paris via California

      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.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you Arren, glad you liked it.

    • Arren123 profile image

      Arren123 5 years ago from UK

      Wonderful hub, thanks for sharing, voted up :)

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you Vellur, they well and truly are.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 5 years ago from Dubai

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

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      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 profile image

      Ann1Az2 5 years ago from Orange, Texas

      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.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      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.

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

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

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 5 years ago from San Francisco

      very impressive article

    • profile image

      KDuBarry03 5 years ago

      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.

      -KD

    • Ann1Az2 profile image

      Ann1Az2 5 years ago from Orange, Texas

      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.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

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

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      KatrineDalMonte 5 years ago

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