Lions are carnivores
They eat many different kinds of animals, known as prey. Lions can eat a lot! Male lions eat an average of 7 kg of food per day and lionesses eat 4.5 kg. Both can eat up to 15% of their body weight during just one meal. For a male, that’s the same as 70 cans of cat food! Lions are known to be greedy and hunt animals even when they are not hungry. When a lion tucks into a juicy zebra and another animal comes near, he often forgets that it will be killed in his zeal to catch more food.
Lions can’t run very fast. With a top speed of 60 kilometers per hour, they are quite slow compared to the 97 km / h of a cheetah.
Also, they can’t run for very long without getting out of breath. For this reason, lions must be smart hunters. By tracking their prey, they can get as close as possible before the hunt begins. Very slowly, crouching close to the ground, lions crawl as close as they can to their victims. To make sure they have not been seen or heard, they may jump very quickly on an animal and take it by surprise.
When hunting smaller animals, lions will often grab onto their prey. By cutting off an animal’s ankle while walking or running from behind, the lion aims to trip it, making it easier to catch. Larger animals are brought down by jumping on their backs. This is usually when the larger, stronger male lions decide to join in.
Although lions can hunt alone, it can be much easier to have a little help. When hunting in a group, each lion has his own place. Just like on a soccer team, they choose either a left, right or center position. If stalking is too difficult, a group of lions may decide to ambush their prey instead.
Running very fast at an animal forces it to run to other lions, or into bushes where it can be caught. Working together like this, lions are much more likely to catch their prey. Lions have even been known to climb trees and jump on unsuspecting elephants as they run underneath!
Although lionesses do most of the hunting while males just sit and watch once an animal is caught, it is the males that always feed first. Lions are good at working together to catch their prey, but they are terrible at sharing it and will fight over their food. Often smaller, weaker lions will starve while the others get fed first. Depending on the size of the kill, they may not get anything at all.
Lions are also scavengers and like to steal food from other animals or eat leftovers after a kill. This means than if other carnivores have caught prey, lions will often bully them into giving up their food.
However, this does not always work with hyenas, which also live in a family group called a clan. If there are more hyenas than lions, they can often hold on to their food. Even the largest hyena clan is no match for a male lion. The king of the jungle always wins!
Lions don’t usually drink much water, but often live near rivers, streams, and watering holes. This is not because they are thirsty, but because they know that predators will come to drink sooner or later. They can wait patiently until dinner. Areas with lots of water often flood, so lions literally have to jump at the deep end to catch their dinner. Because swimming is such good exercise, these lions are often very large and muscular, just like Olympic swimmers!