Male Lions Are Ambush Hunters

LionsFemale lions are known to be great hunters, cooperating to bring down their prey. Male lions, in contrast, have reputations for being great moochers, living off the kills of the females in their prides. That reputation is undeserved — males do indeed hunt — but it seems that they take a different hunting tactic, finds a study published in Animal Behaviour.

Researchers from the Carnegie Institution of Science in Stanford, California, and the University of Pretoria in South Africa matched airborne measurements of vegetation cover in South Africa’s Kruger National Park with GPS telemetry of lion kills. They found that male lions tended to kill in areas that had shorter lines-of-sight than where they rested (lions, being cats, spend most of their time resting), especially at night. But there was no difference with females.

They concluded that the male lions were taking advantage of areas with lots of vegetative cover to ambush their prey. That difference in technique likely helps male lions to be as successful in their hunting as the females that are using the high-success strategy of cooperation.

Reading through the paper, I wonder if the finding might also account for the males’ undeserved reputation for laziness. Lion studies are much easier in open lands like the Serengeti, and it’s in those places where females’ cooperation is especially noticeable. If the males were hunting off in the brush where scientists weren’t looking, no one would have noticed that the males’ ambush tactics.

But more importantly, the scientists say, the finding might have implications for the management of parks and other wildlife areas.

“By strongly linking male lion hunting behavior to dense vegetation, this study suggests that changes to vegetation structure, such as through fire management, could greatly alter the balance of predators and prey,” study co-author Scott Loarie, of the Carnegie Institution of Science, said in a statement.

Image of lions in Kruger National Park courtesy of flickr user jon|k

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