African Lion Behavior: Hunting, Feeding, and Mating
This essay examines the behavior of the African lion in Sub-Saharan Africa. Lions are iconic animals that live in prides or groups. The said topic happens to be of interest given that the African lions are described as being top predators. For this reason, studying their behavior happens to be critical as their behavior impacts other animals in an ecosystem. Several studies have been done to explain the African lion behavior – such as hunting, feeding, and mating. This text explores those studies and other related resources with an aim of better understanding African lion behavior. One of the key objectives of this paper is to determine the feeding behavior of African lions in Sub-Saharan Africa. The write-up also aims at assessing how lions hunt to obtain food. Lion feeding habits is yet another key issue explored. A review of available literature indicates that lions a kill after every two days. In addition, most of the kills are made at night with more than twelve prey species (including livestock) on the menu. However, the male lion is often not actively involved in hunting. As has been pointed out elsewhere in this text, an assessment of the behavior of lions happens to be important in biology owing to the fact that lions are a crucial part of the entire ecosystem. Food happens to be a major factor in the general behavior of the African lion.
Lions have been described as the most successful of wild animals thriving in medium to low human densities (Dolrenry et al par 3). They are said to be distributed across the African continent specifically in most parts of the Sub-Saharan Africa and the savannas. One interesting fact about lions behavior is that they tend to mate, feed, and hunt regularly. It is important to note that African lions live and hunt in prides. Essentially, the pride comprises of several female lions, small breeding males, and cubs. The pride tends to define its territory where food is shared. It is important to note that the said territory happens to be small in that when the prey is not enough, some of the pride members may not eat. Females tend to be more active in hunting than males. In addition, they tend to be active during the night and inactive most of the time. As has been established via an exploration of various resources on lion behavior, feeding, hunting, and mating behaviors of the African lion are mostly carried out at night (San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Library). The African lion can fast for up to 8 days after eating for two consecutive days. With lions being carnivorous in nature, they hunt a wide range of animals and may stray into human settlement areas in search of food. They tend to be both scavengers and hunters (African Wildlife Foundation). The success rate of lions hunt happens to be approximately 40%. Additionally, the African lions reproduce at any time of the year. In the subsequent sections of this text, the feeding behavior, mating behavior, and hunting behavior of the African lion will be explored. Certain unique aspects of the said behaviors will also be explored.
African Lion Feeding Behavior
According to Helmenstine (par 4), lions are hyper carnivores in nature – essentially meaning that their food happens to be more of meat. According to the author, the lion can feed on a prey that is two-times its size. Lionesses tend to eat around 4.5kgs of meat a day while the male lion eats about 7kgs a day. The feeding behavior of African lion largely depends on habitat structure and availability of prey. For instance, DeSantis and Patterson suggest that wild beasts and zebras tend to be the main prey for females, whereas male lions and larger groups tend to feed mainly on ungulates which are inclusive of, but they are not limited to; topi, kongoni, warthog, Thomsons gazelle, zebra, giraffe, wild beast, buffalo, and gemsbok (par 2). However, it is important to note that lions also sometimes depend on stolen prey from animals such as jackals, cheetahs, and hyenas – essentially meaning that they are sometimes scavengers in which case they tend to bully other carnivores to get their meals. Although African lions do not prefer carcasses, they sometimes eat decays of dead animals owing to lack of live prey for survival.
With regard to habitat, DeSantis and Patterson further suggest that habitats tend to affect prey vulnerability to predation and lion preferences (par 2). Naturally, lions do not feed on large animals such as elephants. However, during droughts, the number of elephant calves consumed by lions tends to be high. During droughts, lions tend to also feed on domestic stock. In addition, humans may also fall prey to lions whereby lions tend to feed on man when their routine prey is not available in sufficient numbers. Essentially, children and women are the most affected. Research shows that in December 1998, 135 people were killed and eaten by lions in Tsavo (DeSantis and Patterson). As a consequence, there were retaliatory efforts to locate and kill the lions involved with the said revenge effort being largely indiscriminate. Various studies have been conducted to establish the reason as to why lions feed on humans. Some of the reasons that have been well-documented in the said studies are inclusive of; dental disease, destruction of prey populations, and extended drought (DeSantis and Patterson, par 3).
Lions have various types of teeth which include, bunodont molar which are rounded, carnassial which are blade-like, elongated canines, and peg-like incisors (Valkenburgh, par 1). The said types of teeth are adapted for various functions such as consuming and killing prey. For instance, the molars are low-cusped and broad for grinding and cracking, the carnassial are blade-like for cutting prey, premolars are pointed for penetrating through the prey, while the canines are blade-like for piercing (Valkenburgh, 240). While feeding, the male adult lions tend to eat first, followed by the females and the sub adults. According to SanDiego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, lions do not leave kill sites that are large. They only leave the said sites after they locate larger prey. When the food is little, lions tend to eat grudgingly whereby the weakest and the smallest members of the pride lose to the bigger lions. Essentially, weaker and smaller lions may not get anything depending on the size of the kill (Alert, par 5). Moreover, offspring may not get a portion from their hungry mothers. Lions eat by opening up the preys abdomen whereby they eat the kidneys, liver, and the heart. It is important to note that lions do not feed on teeth, horns, and digestive organs. Such leftovers are often consumed by scavengers (SanDiego Zoo Wildlife Alliance).
African Lion Hunting Behavior
According to Davidokul (par 2), lions tend to hunt and kill various prey which are inclusive of, but they are not limited to; injured giraffes and elephants, and various animals ranging from buffaloes to rodents. Lions live in prides or pairs which gives them the ability to kill large preys at a significant rate of success. Lions often catch their prey via the staking and ambush approach. They could also access raised ground and jumping on unsuspicious prey. It is also important to note that lions tend to live near waterholes, streams, and rivers with the aim of catching their prey as they come to drink water. In some instances, African lions hunt even when they are not hungry. When feeding on certain kill, a lion can also forget about the said kill after another animal comes closer to it and focus on catching more food. African lions hunt early in the morning or during the night (Davidokul, par 2).
African lions do not also happen to be fast runners. In essence, their maximum speed per hour happens to be approximately 60km/h. To a large extent, lions tend to focus on individual preys whereby they target the prey through an upwind direction. Essentially, lions identify preys and pursue it for a short period of time owing to the fact that they havesmall lungs and hearts which effectively makes them slow runners as has been indicated above. In addition, they lack the stamina to run fast after a distance of approximately 200m (Alert, par 1). For this reason, it is important to note that African lions tend to compensate for these deficiencies by exhibiting clever hunting tactics. The African lion employs two key methods to hunt its prey. First, they stalk their prey to get closer to it before pursuing the said prey. They tend to do this stealthily to ensure that they are not heard or seen. Second, they can catch their prey by a straightforward method whereby the lionesses and the male lions hunt together without necessarily stalking or hiding. The said method involves bigger preys which are cornered in a strategic position. After getting the prey – typically by tripping the legs of the said prey lions hold unto the neck with their teeth to suffocate the prey (Davidokul, par 2). With regard to smaller animals, lions bring them down by typically jumping on their rear ends (Alert, par 3).
Lionesses are described as the main hunters. During a hunt, smaller females prevent the prey from escaping while the larger females pursue the prey. Additionally, female lions tend to be better stalkers than male lions (Alert, par 3). Females may hunt while still weaning their cubs for up to eight weeks. In rare cases, one female may be left to look after the cubs while the rest of the pride hunt. Alert (par 4) suggest that lions tend to forgo the chase after missing their target – essentially meaning that they do not change their track. In most cases, male lions may stay back and wait for the lionesses to make a kill. One of the factors that makes it harder for the male lion to be an effective hunter is its massive mane. The said mane in male lions makes it difficult for them to hide from prey (Alert, par 3). Further, this mane also elevates their body temperature which makes them expend a lot of energy while hunting. Thus, it would be accurate to point out that female lions are the more skilled hunters when compared to male lions. In most cases, lions rest for many hours or even weeks after a successful hunt.
African Lion Mating Behavior
The male and female lions exhibit different looks. The males happen to be larger than the females. Sexual maturity in lions is achieved at the age of three years. However, male lions are allowed to join a pride at the age of four to five years old. This is more so the case given that at a younger age, they lack breeding rights and rights to take over a pride (Alert, par 2). Davidokul (par 3) describes the African lion as polygamous in nature whereby they tend to mate all year. Nevertheless, female lions are confined to a maximum of two males during copulation. According to the author, lions may mate after every 20 minutes in a day. Helmenstine describes the female lion as polyestrous, essentially meaning that they breed throughout the year (par 8). For instance, the author suggests that they can mate during weaning of their cubs or when their cubs die. When the female is on heat, the said copulation may take up to four consecutive days. This is often the case given that paternity of the offspring has to be secured by excluding additional males.
During mating, Alert (par 6) suggests that there is often no competition for mates. The male lion tends to follow the female when she reveals the first signs of fertility. In addition, there is often a large number of female lions who are on heat at any given time. To initiate copulation, the male strokes the female at the back or neck with its tongue. However, the larger male may fight younger males for mating rights. During mating, female lionesses are stimulated to ovulate owing to the backward-pointing spines in the male lions penis (Helmestine, par 8). The gestation period for the female lions happens to be 110 days after mating whereby they produce an average of 1-4 cubs. During birth, the female lions exclude themselves from the pride into a secluded area where they give birth. Within a given pride, the cubs are protected by the females. It is important to note that the male lions do not defend the cubs. However, they tolerate the said cubs by playing with them.
Alert. Predatory Behavior. 2020. https://lionalert.org/predatory-behaviour/
African Wildlife Foundation. Lion. n. d. https://www.awf.org/wildlife-conservation/lion
Davidokul. Feeding, Breeding and Killing Habits of Lions (African Lion). 2020. https://silvica.site/feeding-breeding-and-killing-habits-of-lion/
DeSantis, Larisa R. G. and Patterson, Bruce D. Dietary Behavior of Man-eating Lions as Revealed by Dental Microwear Textures. Sci Rep, 7, 2017, 904. https://dx.doi.org/10.1038%2Fs41598-017-00948-5
Helmestine, Anne M. African Lion Facts: Habitat, Diet, Behavior. 2019. https://www.thoughtco.com/african-lion-facts-4173971#habitat-and-distribution
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. How were helping to Save the African Lion. N. d. https://science.sandiegozoo.org/species/african-lion
Valkenburgh, Blaire V. Feeding Behavior in Free-Ranging Large African Carnivores. Journal of Mammalogy, 77(1), 1996, 240-254.
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