Lions are known for their hunting prowess, skillfully exhausting their prey, or taking a smaller animal by surprise. Twice their size, they hunt buffalo in packs, but a single lion or lioness will take out zebra, wildebeest, gemsbok, hartebeest, warthog, kob, impala and gazelle. They hunt at great speeds (they can reach speeds of nearly 40mph), but have little stamina, so when hunting it is important for them to get as close to their prey as possible before charging. It is therefore important that they conceal themselves well using vegetation, the landscape and especially the cover of darkness.
When the lions close in on a herd, they will stalk the closest prey, possibly the slowest or weakest in the pack. As they approach they go into the stalking posture, just like a domestic cat, with their heads and bodies close to the ground, constantly watching the prey, and pausing should the prey look up. They will then attack with a short, but powerful burst of energy from about 20-30 metres from the prey. The prey is usually killed by strangulation as the lion bites the neck and snout area, using all their strength and razor-sharp teeth. The prey may still have the ability to run away, but by this stage the wounds that have been inflicted will no doubt slow them down, allowing the lion to finish off the kill. Lions can grab a zebra on its rump and throw it a few metres, also a heavy blow to the head of an antelope using its forepaw can stun the animal.
If suitable prey is available, lions eat every 3 to 4 days, but can go without food for more than a week. They consume about 25% of their body mass. An adult lion will kill approximately 15 animals per year.
Generally females kill more than males, but the males will still kill the larger prey.
Once the prey has been killed, lions will drag the corpse to a concealed area, sometimes for quite a distance. They will choose a shaded area that is out of sight from vultures and hyenas or any other type of scavenger.
The dominant male in the pride will always eat first. The lionesses and cubs will feed on the internal organs such as the heart, liver, kidneys and lungs, whereas the male will start feeding on the hindquarters. Lions are seen to feed whilst lying on their bellies, as opposed to other cats who sit, crouch or stand. They feed from the body cavity and hindquarters to the ribs and limbs, leaving the head and neck for last. A pride of lions may spend three or four days eating a giraffe, rhino or large buffalo.
It is not uncommon on an African safari to come across a pride of lions eating their kill. You may think this is a gruesome sight, but this is a natural occurrence in the wild, and you will experience the true reality of how animals have to survive in their harsh habitat.