The Lion Shirt
Get a Britannica Premium subscription and gain access to exclusive content.Subscribe NowHuntingLions prey on a large variety of animals ranging in size from rodents and baboons to Cape (or African) buffalo and hippopotamuses, but they predominantly hunt medium- to large-sized hoofed animals such as wildebeests, zebras, and antelopes. Prey preferences vary geographically as well as between neighbouring prides. Lions are known to take elephants and giraffes, but only if the individual is young or especially sick. They readily eat any meat they can find, including carrion and fresh kills that they scavenge or forcefully steal from hyenas, cheetahs, or wild dogs. Lionesses living in open savanna do most of the hunting, whereas males typically appropriate their meals from the female’s kills. However, male lions are also adept hunters, and in some areas they hunt frequently. Pride males in scrub or wooded habitat spend less time with the females and hunt most of their own meals. Nomadic males must always secure their own food.Lions chasing a warthog.Lions chasing a warthog.© Digital Vision/Getty Images
Though a group of hunting lions is potentially nature’s most formidable predatory force on land, a high proportion of their hunts fail. The cats pay no attention to the wind’s direction (which can carry their scent to their prey), and they tire after running short distances. Typically, they stalk prey from nearby cover and then burst forth to run it down in a short, rapid rush. After leaping on the prey, the lion lunges at its neck and bites until the animal has been strangled. Other members of the pride quickly crowd around to feed on the kill, usually fighting for access. Hunts are sometimes conducted in groups, with members of a pride encircling a herd or approaching it from opposite directions, then closing in for a kill in the resulting panic. The cats typically gorge themselves and then rest for several days in its vicinity. An adult male can consume more than 34 kg (75 pounds) of meat at a single meal and rest for a week before resuming the hunt. If prey is abundant, both sexes typically spend 21 to 22 hours a day resting, sleeping, or sitting and hunt for only 2 or 3 hours a day.