What Do Lions Eat? 15 Animals They Hunt

Written by Dana Mayor
Updated: September 15, 2022
Image Credit Richard Damian Knight/Shutterstock.com
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What do lions eat
Lions are carnivores that eat prey which includes zebras, cattle, warthogs, and gazelles

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Key Facts

  • Lions are pretty voracious although they have a good reason to be since they’re capable of going without a meal for a few days.
  • They’re also opportunistic predators which means they’ll hunt just about anything which takes their fancy.
  • Their choice of prey, however, is ultimately influenced by their location and they may hunt wild animals or even livestock.

Lions are an apex predator known for their ferocity and hunting prowess. They’re obviously carnivores, but other questions remains. How much do lions eat, what is their favorite prey, and how often are their hunts successful? In the article below we’ll answer the question “what do lions eat” and much more!

How Lions Hunt and How Often Are they Successful?

What do lions eat - lion hunting zebra
A lion bringing down one of its favorite prey, a zebra

Rostislav Stach/Shutterstock.com

Lions hunt in groups called prides that consist of up to a dozen females, their cubs, and no more than three males. While males are larger, females are significantly faster. For this reason, hunts on open savannas are primarily led by female lions. When male lions are hunting without a pride, they prefer denser habitats where they can surprise prey rather than open areas.

The group structure of lions makes them much more successful predators. In a study of 1,300 lion hunts, researchers found that lions hunting individually were successful on just 17 to 19% of hunts. However, when hunting in groups lions’ success rate jumped to 30%!

How does that compare to other big cats?

Well, that success rate far outstrips the tiger’s which seems far unluckier with a 5 -10% chance at swatting its prey.

(Unless, you happen to be speaking about the Amur tiger which seems far, far more fortunate and has a 54% success rate when hunting wild boar.)

The solitary leopard is somewhat more efficient, especially mothers in this instance which have an average success rate of 28%.

Lone males seem to be less skilled at the hunt compared to their  female counterparts with a modest 14% chance of snagging a deer or zebra for dinner.

The prize for the most successful hunter in this case goes to the  fastest cat on the planet, the cheetah.

This speckled hunter of the plains is guaranteed to bring down an impala or wildebeest 58% of the time, outdoing even the highly successful Amur tiger, a pride hunting together, and female leopards with cubs in need of protein-rich fare.

How Much Do Lions Eat?

What do lions eat - dinner time
A male lion feasting

Richard Damian Knight/Shutterstock.com

An average human three to four pounds of food per day. If you’re a 200 pound male, that mens you’re eating about 2% your body weight (and probably feel pretty stuffed at the end!).

Lions can eat a lot more than people in a single sitting. Because lions will often go several days between successful hunts, they can eat up to 70 pounds (32 kilograms) in just one sitting! With prey like African buffalos weighing up to 2,000 pounds, this means lions can also gorge on large kills and feed a pride without leaving too many leftovers for hyenas and other scavengers like vultures.

What Do Lions Eat?

What do lions eat - hunting zebras
Two lions getting ready for a hunt

GUDKOV ANDREY/Shutterstock.com

African lions eat animals that include wart hogs, Grant’s gazelles, wildebeests, and zebras.

One of the most comprehensive studies on what lions eat was published in Behavioral Biology in 1993. The study took place at Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and studied the diets of lions. Specifically, it studied what animals they ate at outsized rates. The study isolated four animals as primary lion prey:

  • Wart hogs
  • Grant’s gazelles
  • Wildebeests
  • Zebras

Second, the authors of the study analyzed why the lions preferred this prey. They found that lions preferred prey that:

  • Was in small prey groups
  • Within 200 meters
  • And in groups of the animals listed above

A similar study was undertaken to study Asiatic lion populations and their diet. The study was published in the Journal of Zoology in 2011 and took 5 years of observation. Of 258 kills, researchers found that:

  • 53% were livestock and 47% wild
  • 31% were cattle
  • 28% chital
  • 16% buffalo
  • 6% wild pig
  • 3% nilgai
  • 3% goat
  • 2% camel

It’s important to note that Asiatic lions live in a small area, around Gir National Forest. Due to the heavy population density of India and their limited range their livestock predation is significantly higher than you’d find in lions across Africa.

Beyond these lists, lions will eat about anything they can catch. They prefer larger prey, and in addition to the lists above will feast on deer, antelope, and giraffes. While lions will hunt giraffes, they do have a size limit! Lions generally will stay clear of the largest mammals such as elephants and rhinos once they’ve grown past adolescence.

Do Lions Eat other Predators like Hyenas and Leopards?

What do lions eat - lion vs hyena
A lion defending its kill from a group of hyenas

Mark Sheridan-Johnson/Shutterstock.com

Hyenas are one of the few animals that will try eating a lion. While lions are not a common prey for hyenas, if a pack can find an aging male lion left alone, they will attempt to overwhelm it through sheer numbers.

The question is, will lions actively hunt other large predators in their range like hyenas, cheetahs, and leopards? Lions will attack and kill rival predators, but they will often leave their carcasses for scavengers. It’s good to be at the top of the food chain!

What Animals Do Lions Eat: A List of 15 of Their Top Prey

Two male lions on the hunt

Blue Slate Films/Shutterstock.com

Lions primarily eat animals like:

  • Wart hogs
  • Grant’s gazelles
  • Wildebeests
  • Zebras
  • Cattle
  • Chital
  • Buffalo
  • Wild pig
  • Nilgai
  • Goat
  • Camel
  • Deer
  • Antelope
  • Giraffes
  • Baboons
  • Hippopotamus (juvenile)

What Do Lions Eat at the Zoo?

What do lions eat - eating in captivity

Lions in zoos are obviously not fed preferred pray in the wild like zebras and wildebeests. Instead, lions in zoos mostly eat horse and beef products, but could be fed a variety of meats. Specialized companies like Nebraska Brands sell bone and horse meat products that are meant for large carnivores like lions.

Up Next…

What Do Cats Eat?: What are their favorite foods and how do they hunt? What predators do they need to be wary of? Find out here.

What Do Otters Eat?: Are they strictly carnivorous? Or are they partial to a few veggies at the dinner table? Read all about about their preferences in this article.

What Do Elephants Eat? Their Diet Explained 

Are they strictly vegetarian? Do they have a sweet tooth? Discover what these lovable mammals eat and how much they’re capable of tucking away a day.

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About the Author

I love good books and the occasional cartoon. I am also endlessly intrigued with the beauty of nature and find hummingbirds, puppies, and marine wildlife to be the most magical creatures of all.

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