Lions are incredible, yet ferocious, animals. With this in mind, it’s no wonder why so many are intrigued when it comes to how lions behave and what their diets consist of.
If you’ve ever pondered the question “what do lions eat?”, the short answer is “meat and flesh”. As apex predators, lions are adept at hunting for their food, which is typically other animals that live within its habitat. This can include anything from antelopes, giraffes, zebras, wild hogs and even crocodiles.
The long list of animals lions prey upon is one of the main reasons they are referred to as the ‘kings of the jungle’. To put it simply, lions are at the top of the food chain in the wild and can almost hunt any animal they choose given their brute strength, sharp teeth and claws, and intelligence.
In this article, we’re going to explore what lions eat in detail to help you fully understand these amazing (and massive) felines.
Exploring a Lion’s Diet
Lions are carnivorous animals that only eat meat. A carnivore is an animal that scavenges or hunts animals to gain energy and nutrients from their respective flesh and tissue.
As the “Apex Predator”, lions are at the top of the food chain which means no other animal sees them as prey. Also referred to as “Obligate Carnivores”, lions only consume animal flesh for nourishment. “Facultative Carnivores” are animals that eat non-animal foods in addition to meat.
Why Do Lions Eat Meat
As “Obligate Carnivores”, over 70% of a lion’s diet relies on meat. Lions do not naturally produce the level of amino acids their bodies need to survive. In order to fulfil their daily intake, lions have to consume animal flesh.
While lions cannot effectively digest vegetation, they still may nibble on some grass or fruits. Lions do not have the enzymes responsible to break down plant matter; they can only digest meat successfully.
What Animals do Lions Prey on?
Lions are not picky when it comes to what they prey on, including:
- Smaller elephants
- Wild Hogs
If they were to come across these smaller prey, they are very likely to eat them as well:
Exploring a Lion’s Diet in The Wild
Lions will eat any and every animal they are able to capture. In the wild, this results in a wide variety of animals in their daily diet.
Zebras, Pigs, buffaloes, antelopes, hippos, giraffes, rhinos, and wildebeests are the animals lions are most likely to consume. Lions will also prey on small and young offspring of large animals anywhere from 50 to 300 kg in size.
On average, an adult lion kills 15 animals annually. They usually feed off of the corpses of kills made by the hunters of the lions’ pride. In the wild, scavenging accounts for half of a lions diet.
What Do Lions Eat at The Zoo?
In a zoo, lions are usually kept to a diet of beef (sometimes the bones as well), chicken, rabbit, sheep, and horse.
In addition to the animal flesh, captive lions will indulge in commercially and specially formulated cat food. These foods are crafted to sustain all of a lion’s dietary needs.
What African Lions Eat
Usually found in the grasslands, African lions often eat:
What White Lions Eat
White lions are also obligate carnivores so they require the flesh of animals to satisfy their dietary needs.
These days, white lions are rarely found in the wild where they originated from Timbavati, South Africa. They would eat the same animals as African lions including zebras, pigs, buffaloes, gazelles, rabbits, and wildebeests.
They are often found in captivity where they are held by a variety of animals and the formulated cat food.
What Do Lions Prefer To Eat?
Considering lions’ digestive systems are crafted to digest animal flesh, they will always crave other animals. Some of their favorite animals include:
- Young or small elephants
How Much & How Often Do Lions Eat?
An average lion in the wild eats around 10 and 25 pounds (4.5 and 11 kg) of food per day.
If there are copious amounts of food, male lions are able to eat up to 43 kg of meat compared to a female who can ingest up to 25 kg in a day.
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums recommends that a male lion in captivity should eat around 3.6 kg (8 pounds) and a female should eat around 2.7 kg (6 pounds). Lions are required to eat daily. However, they are able to survive up to 14 days without food if necessary.
How Lions Eat Their Food
Like most carnivores, lions are equipped with three types of teeth:
In order to eat their food, they use their specialized teeth and strong jaws. A lion’s mouth can open up to 11 inches (28 cm) wide. Lions also have one of the largest bites in the animal kingdom.
The extreme long and sharp canine teeth are used for grasping and killing their prey, while thier incisors are the smaller teeth in the front of the moth used for tearing smaller pieces of meat from the fresh corpse.
In order to tear away large chunks of meat, lions use their sharp carnassial teeth located in the bath of their mouth. Instead of chewing their food, lions just swallow large chunks of meat.
Where & When Do Lions Eat?
Lions almost always consume their prey immediately after to kill. But if they kill their prey in a body of water, they will pull it to the shore first.
If they are unable to finish the meal in its entirety, they will guard the carcass from unwanted scavengers and wait until they are hungry again. Sometimes, lions will enjoy their kill in the shade to avoid the heat.
While lions can hunt during the day, they usually save their prey for the nighttime. After a pride successfully kills their prey, they take turns eating the flesh. Adult males go first, then lionnesses, and then the cubs and older or weaker lions.
Do Lions Eat Each Other?
Lions usually only kill each other if there is a conflict in the pride or a shift in control in a new territory. From time to time, male lions will kill a lioness who refuses to mate in a newly acclaimed territory.
Do Lions Eat Their Cubs?
Lions will sometimes kill and eat their cubs in order to make their mother pregnant. Male lions may also kill and eat new young cubs of a new territory.
Do Lions Eat Humans?
It is uncommon for lions to eat humans, however there have been a few cases where a lion has eaten a human. The most famous case being the 1898 Tsavo man-eaters. In 9 months, two lions consumed 28 railways workers while they were building the Kenya-Uganda railway.
American and Tanzanian scientists revealed a staggering report. From 1990 to 2005, at least 563 villagers in the rural parts of Tanzania were attacked by lions and many were eaten.
Packer estimates that 200 to 400 Tanzanian people are killed by wild animals, 70 of these deaths are by lions.
At least 35 people were killed by a main-eating lion in Southern Tanzania along the Rufiji river, before game scouts hunted and killed it in April of 2004. Asian lions are also capable of eating humans. Attacks on humans were reported twice in 2012 from an area about 55 km from the Gir sanctuary.
As you can see, when it comes to what lions eat, it can vary depending on the region and circumstances the lion is in. Regardless, though, all lions eat meat and flesh and love to hunt for their prey, which is what makes them such a ferocious predator in the wild.
For more fun facts and guides about wild animals, check out some of the other articles on WildlifeTrip!