Do Lions Kill and Eat Other Big Cats? | Facts

Lions belong to the Felidae (cat) family. They have a muscly, powerful build with large paws and are tan in color. Sexes can easily be distinguished by the main, which is present in males but lacking in females. Males are also much larger than their female counterparts. 

Lions live in pride, which averages around 15 members but can range from 4 to 37. A pride contains lionesses, a few breeding males, and their cubs. Each pride has its own territory that is fiercely defended and is one of the factors that leads to fatal fights. 

Lions are known for their fearsome roar, sharp claws, and pointed canines. These carnivores silently stalk their prey and pounce upon them, biting the neck of their unsuspecting victim to kill them. 

Lions consume a huge variety of animal prey, but the question is, are other large cats also on the menu?

Reasons A Lion Would Kill Another Lion

Generally, lions are not known for attacking and killing other lions, but such acts are more common than you may think.  There are a number of different reasons a lion may attack and kill another lion, which are as follows: 

1. Establishing a Pride Takeover

When male lions are around 2 to 3 years old, they begin to reach sexual maturity. As such, they are kicked out of their first pride by the older males and venture out to establish a pride of their own. 

Every pride of lions abides by a specific social structure. Lionesses are the primary hunters whilst males are responsible for protecting their pride and their pride’s territory. Young males will fight older male lions, in an attempt to take over their pride. 

Fights between male lions are usually to the death, with the victorious individual taking over the pride. If the loser is not killed in combat, the attained injuries will most likely result in death shortly after. 

2. Scarcity of Food

Generally, lions do not seek out other lions to kill and consume. One exception to this rule is when food is extremely scarce. By nature, lions are not cannibalistic, and hunting another powerful apex predator is not desired when many herbivores or less challenging prey are available. 

However, when prey is scarce, lions may kill and eat other lions. Usually, this is the eldest or weakest member of the pride. 

3. Infanticide

When a male lion takes over a pride and becomes the new alpha, it will likely kill the cubs in the pride in an act known as infanticide. This is because the current cubs are offspring of the previous alpha lion and killing them will prevent its genes from being inherited.

Lionesses are not ready to mate until they have finished nursing. By killing the cubs, the new alpha stakes a claim on the lioness. She will come into season much quicker and the new male can mate with her to produce cubs that contain his genes. Killed cubs may also be consumed. 

4. Unfit Male

On occasion, lionesses within a pride have been known to kill the alpha male, if they believe he is too ill, old, or unfit to continue ruling the pride. 

5. Unusual Events

Sometimes unusual behavior can be witnessed in nature. There is an infamous case known as the Mapogo Lion Coalition in which 6 male lions went on a killing spree in Kruger National Park in South Africa. 

The lions killed over 100 lions in just over 12 months, resulting in them ruling 8 feelings of pride across 170,000 acres of Sabi Sand. 

Do Lions Fight to the Death

In order for a young male lion that has just been kicked out of its pride to establish a pride of its own, it must engage in a fight to the death. 

New males will seek out a current alpha and engage in a battle, resulting in the death of one individual. The remaining individual is the alpha of pride.

If a new male lion becomes the alpha of pride, it will most likely commit infanticide. However, some lionesses will engage in a fight in order to protect their cubs. 

Some males may occasionally allow the cubs to live, although the outcome is usually either the death of the lioness, her cubs, or both. 

Sometimes, the pride may cooperate and triumph above the male, although this is seldom observed. 

Females and territory are the main reasons for lions engaging in fights to the death. These precious resources are worth the risk of death.

Do Lions Kill and Eat Other Big Cats
Lioness remains vigilant while the male lion sleeps on the South African plains
Credit: Caitlin Watson

Would A Lion Feed on Another Dead Lion?

Typically, lions will only consume fresh meat, as they are actively hunting predators, not scavengers. However, if a kill is very recent, even if was not made by them, they are likely to consume it. A fresh and available carcass does not require energy expenditure in terms of the pursuit. 

Like the majority of predators, lions are opportunistic feeders. If they kill a lion, be it a cub, male, or lioness, they will likely consume it. 

Although the purpose of the kill would have been to establish dominance, they may consume the kill rather than waste fresh meat, especially if food is scarce. 

Do Male or Females Lions Kill Cubs?

Both male and female lions are known to kill cubs. Alison Dunn, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Leeds says ales will often kill unrelated cubs when they take over a pride, in order to bring the mother into oestrus and stop the genes from the father from being inherited by successive generations. 

Female lions have been known to kill and eat their own cubs, although this behavior is more often observed in captivity than it is in the wild. 

If the cub is showing signs of abnormality or illness, the female may kill it. Additionally, if the cub is not behaving or responding as it should, the mother’s maternal instinct may not kick in, leading to her killing the cub. 

Do Lions Hunt and Kill Other Big Cats?

Generally, lions do not hunt and kill other big cats. This is because pursuing another vicious predator, such as a cheetah, another lion, or a leopard, is very risky. 

Other large cats are likely to vigorously fight back, with the chance of injury or even death being much higher than if a lion was to hunt a prey species, such as a zebra or antelope. 

This being said, if another large cat has made a kill, lions may take their chance at engaging in a fight to steal their food. Again, this is a risky and rare strategy but has been observed. 

What Do Lions Prefer to Eat?

Lions are obligate carnivores, meaning their diet is exclusively animal-based. These apex predators hunt their animal prey and will consume almost any animal they can kill. 

They generally require one substantial meal a day, but they can survive up to 14 days without food, although during this starvation period, they become increasingly weak. 

Whilst active during the day, Lions usually hunt at night. Hunting can take place near water or on land and they tend to consume the prey at the site of the kill. Males eat first, followed by the females, followed by the cubs. 

Hunting may be achieved on an individual or a pride basis. Hunting in groups requires strategic positioning and planning and involves a lot of time stalking and waiting, or occasionally ambushing. 

Lionesses do the majority of the killing, although the male gets to feed first. To kill their victims, lionesses will bite the throat of their prey to suffocate them or break their necks. 

Among the huge list of prey lions consume are; antelope, buffalo, crocodile, wild bush pig, warthogs, wildebeest, zebra, and giraffe. These sizable land mammals are the main and preferred victims of lions. 

However, smaller animals also contribute to the lion’s diet including; tortoises, lizards, hares, snakes, mice, and birds. 

Elephants, rhinos, and hippos are seldom preyed on by lions due to their size and capability of killing or injuring lions.

lion eating their preferred diet
Lioness and cubs consuming a kill
Credit: Flowcomm by CC: 2.0

Do Lions Cannibalize?

Despite being obligate carnivores and apex predators, cannibalism is not an activity that lions naturally engage in. In terms of food sources, lions favor medium to large-sized terrestrial mammals such as zebra and warthog. 

Although, they will hunt and consume almost anything they can get their claws into. 

Nonetheless, acts of cannibalism are more common than one may think, although the reason for these acts is not to do with obtaining a food source. 

Lions, mainly males, will kill other lions to establish dominance and become the alpha of pride. Cubs and previous alpha males are the main victims.

Although other lions are not the preferred prey, if a lion does kill one of its own, the dead may be consumed, as it is still a source of food. Especially when prey is scarce, cannibalism does occur.