Lions are probably the favourite African predator for most people. For their bravery, lions are rightfully known as the king of beasts and they truly run the savannah.
Given how interesting lions are, it is normal for someone to wonder what lions eat - whether that is in the wild or at the zoo.
In this article, we'll take a closer look at what makes up the diet of lions in the wild, as well as their eating habits. While the quick answer is that lions eat meat, the details are a bit more interesting.
What do lions eat in the Wild?
Lions are hypercanivores and must eat meat to survive. In the wild, lions are not picky hunters and will eat most of the animals in the African savannah.
Lions prefer to hunt and eat small and medium ungulates (grazers) weighing not more than 200 kilograms (440 lb). This varies depending on the prevailing population of prey in the various habitats.
Bigger animals like hippos, giraffes, elephants, and buffalos are often avoided, but no animal is off the list when the situation is tough.
How often do lions eat?
Unlike the lions at the zoo whose food is provided on a daily basis, lions in the wild eat every 3 to 4 days. Lions are greedy and usually gorge themselves on enough meat to last some days.
The prey situation is different in the various wild places. This means that in places where the prey is smaller, lions do hunt and eat a bit more often than in places like the Serengeti where the common prey is zebras and wildebeests.
How much do lions eat?
An adult lion can eat about 15 to 20 percent of its body weight in sitting - which is around twice a week. Given that an average Adult male lion weighs around 190kg (418 lb), it would need to eat around 30 kg (66 lb) of meat in one sitting.
Do lions drink water?
Lions drink water but in often smaller quantities. Much of a lion's hydration comes from the moisture in the meat they eat. Lions drink water around 2 times a week.
Depending on the season, and other prevailing conditions, a lion might need to drink more water - especially in the hot dry seasons.
Do lions eat humans?
While lions can actually eat humans, this rarely happens because lions live in wild and legally protected areas.
There are some stories of poachers being killed by lions, or a lion straying into neighbouring communities. Generally, a lion that hunts humans is often killed, to make sure they don't get 'a taste for human flesh'.
In regards to tourism, game-viewing safaris in these protected areas are always executed with care and you generally never get too close to the lions.
Do lions eat fish?
While lions rarely do it, they can actually eat fish. Lions will eat fish if they can find it already dead and on the ground.
Unlike leopards, lions are not good swimmers and cannot hunt in the water. This is probably why they rarely eat fish.
Additionally, waterbodies often have birds that eat the fish, it is unlikely that you will see a lion eating fish while on your African safari.
Do lions eat grass
For most people, an image of a lion eating grass is a funny joke. In truth, lions do eat grass but not as part of their normal diet.
Lions eat grass as a natural source of some minerals, vitamins, and fibers that help with the lion's digestion. Like other carnivores, lions cannot digest plant material and so the grass is often vomited out later.
This also helps the lion in situations where it needs to expel some undigestible items like fur or hooves. For a lion, chewing on a few leaves of grass can be equated to taking medicine for the stomach.
Do lions eat other lions?
Generally, lions do not eat the meat of another dead lion. In the worst of situations in the wild, a lion could eat the meat of another to survive.
As a basic approach, lions do not eat the meat of other predators because it provides less in terms of nutritional value. When a lion kills any of the other predators, it is to reduce competition for the available food resources.
What kills/eats lions?
Lions are Apex predators and no wild animals hunt lions to eat them. Unless a lion is young, sick, injured, or elderly, it is at the top of the food chain in the African savannah.
Lions do have natural enemies in other carnivores such as hyenas, leopards, cheetahs, and wild dogs due to competition for prey and hunting grounds. Cubs and puppies of all these animals (including lions) can get killed by other animals should they be so unlucky to be found alone and unprotected.
Lions can lose their lives as a result of a hunt gone wrong. This is especially true when lions go after more giant animals like hippos, elephants, rhinos, or African buffalos.
Related article: Why hippos are more dangerous than lions
It is worth mentioning that lions also die at the hands of humans illegally hunting or poaching in protected areas. Illegal wildlife trade and practice still affects many animals, especially in unstable African countries where the priority is understandably on survival, rather than conservation.
How do lions hunt
Like other big cats, lions are very good at stalking their prey and pouncing when they are close enough to start the chase. They often catch smaller animals but tripping them and taking a bite to the neck.
For bigger animals like zebras, the lions will jump onto the back and find a bite to the neck until the zebra relents and falls to the ground.
Female lions (lionesses) do most of the hunting and can easily cooperate with the other lionesses in the same pride (group) to hunt. Adult male lions are capable of hunting alone but will join the rest of the pride in situations where the animal being hunted is bigger and harder to kill.
While lions are good hunters, their hunt successrate is between 15 and 20 percent - which is lower than that of leopards, cheetahs, hyenas and african wilddogs. Here is our article that looks specifically at the hunting success rate of African predators in the wild.
Do lions Scavenge for food?
The reputation of the lion might make one think that lions only eat what they kill. The reality is that lions generally steal a lot of their meat from other predators such as hyenas, cheetahs, and leopards.
In some instances, around 50% of all the meat for the lions will come from kills made by other animals.
Given a lion's strength over these other animals, stealing their food makes up for the fact that they are less-successful hunters.
What do lions eat at the zoo?
Lions at the zoo are fed meat from other domestic animals like horses, goats, sheep, and cattle among others.
Life for lions in the zoo is completely different from that of the lions roaming the hot African savannah every day. This is why a lion from a zoo would hardly survive in the wild and possibly die of starvation.
Everything about lions is quite interesting, and as this article shows, even their eating habits are fascinating. Taking a deeper look at the behaviors of an animal can usually give you a better perspective of what life is like for that animal in the unforgiving African wilderness.
Your safari journey might not be long enough to allow you to fully observe every aspect of a lion's life in the wild, but now you know all about their diet and 'table' manners.