Lion: Hunting


lion 3Living with a pride is important for male lions because they typically feed on the kills made by the females. Lions are powerful hunters, but depending on the prey, they make a kill only once in about every five attempts. Often, lions scavenge, or steal prey, from other carnivores, such as hyenas. For all members of a pride, feeding is a free-for-all. The big males eat first followed by the females, who compete among themselves, no matter which female or females actually made the kill. Cubs receive no special treatment and eat last.

Lions usually hunt at night, alone, or in groups. Their preferred prey are large hoofed mammals, such as zebras and wildebeests, but they will go after small hares as well as huge giraffes. Typically, a lion hunting alone will slowly and silently stalk its prospective victim, trying not to be seen, until it is about 30 m (about 98 ft) away. Then with a burst of speed, the lion will run toward the prey, grab it, and throw it to the ground. The lion kills the prey by biting the back of the animal’s neck with sharp canine teeth or by holding the prey’s throat in its jaws until the animal suffocates. If, during a hunt, the prey detects the lion’s presence and starts to run, the lion gives up. Although lions are capable of high speed over short distances, they do not have the endurance to chase down an escaping animal.

In group hunts, lions may surround potential prey so it has nowhere to escape, or some lions may drive prey into the reach of others. Two or more lions may grab and slash together to bring down an animal. Lions are more likely to hunt together to kill larger animals, such as zebras and buffalo, and usually hunt alone to kill smaller prey, such as warthogs. In either case, other lions that did not help with the kill still move in to share the food.

When feeding on a large kill, a lion can eat almost 36 kg (almost 80 lb) of meat in one feeding and then not need to eat for several days. On average, a lion needs to eat about 5 kg (about 11 lb) of meat daily. How often it must hunt depends on the size of the prey it kills—or on the amount it can scavenge from others’ kills. In zoos, lions are fed 1.5 to 4 kg (3 to 9 lb) of meat per day. This is less than they would eat in the wild due to their less active lifestyle.

Scientific classification: The lion is a member of the cat family, Felidae, in the carnivore order, Carnivora, and is classified as Panthera leo.

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