High-IQ Gazelle Outsmarts a Hunting Lion With Fast Moves

Written by Maxwell Martinson
Updated: October 20, 2023
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Have you ever seen an NFL play where the person with the ball zigs and zags, unbelievably dodging a horde of extremely talented defenders?

Well, that’s nothing compared to dodging a charging lion.

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A lion runs at the maximum speed of 50 miles per hour and is second in speed only to the cheetah. A gazelle is comparable to a lion at top speed, but it’s a lot nimbler in the way it’s able to move.

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A gazelle can also outrun a lion at long distances, which is part of the reason why lions need to be sneaky, explosive, and decisive with their movements.

What’s Happening in The Video?

gazelle running

gazelle running


We’ll see a video of a lion being outsmarted by a gazelle. There’s more to the story, though.

The impressive movements of the gazelle are almost matched by the clever and calculated moves of the lioness in this video.

The scene we’re about to see takes place in Masai Mara, a massive national game reserve in Kenya. It starts with the hungry lioness crouching invisibly in a patch of brush. Take a moment to appreciate how disguised she is in a place that, seemingly, offers no place to hide.

Her body doesn’t move. She sits as still as a rock for a while, and who knows how long she was sitting there before the filming started. The clip snaps forward and we see that her head has begun to lift.

The camera tilts to the right and we finally see what she’s watching: a feeding gazelle. The lioness moves forward slightly and returns to her crouch, planting her back legs firmly into the ground this time so she can spring forward when the time is right.

She springs, slows down, then lumbers forward in disguise at a steady pace until the gazelle finally notices. As the gazelle reacts and bursts left, the lioness explodes forward with her 300-pound frame.

The Gazelle’s Quick Thinking

The first thing to notice about the gazelle is that it doesn’t look at the lioness. It senses that she’s coming and darts away. That’s the first big-brained thing this gazelle does.

If it were to look at the lioness, it would be caught. Then, as it reaches full speed, it bursts right. Then left, then right.

The gazelle cuts back and forth every three or four steps, using misdirection to throw the lioness off. This is so effective that the lioness backs off after the third misdirection.

These split-second decisions are what separates survivors in the wild. This lion did nearly everything right, but the gazelle was just as equipped to defend itself with its speed and agility.

If a gazelle is able to make it past that first split-second, the odds are that it will survive. Lions and lionesses are extremely fast, but they can’t switch directions or accelerate nearly as fast as gazelles can.

That means gazelles almost always win in the open field, whereas lions can do a lot of damage if they utilize the element of surprise.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/StuPorts

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About the Author

Hi! I'm Max and I'm a writer from Minneapolis, Minnesota. I've been freelancing for more than five years and love the freedom and variety that this profession offers. Animals are also a big part of my life, and a lot of my time is dedicated to playing with my cat, Herbie.

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