Male lions hunt in a hidden world

lion pride

Male lions use solitary ambush hunting strategy while female lions will work as a group

When you watch nature programmes it’s easy to think that the male lion in Africa has an easy life with the females heading out on hunts to feed the pride. But it may not be quite so simple. New research seems to indicate that male lions are just as effective at females on hunts but they use a different and hidden strategy.

While both male and female lions head out to hunt at night under the cover of darkness the way that each hunt differs. Females will hunt as a group and work together to kill their prey. Working in a pack over open ground its easy to think that they do the majority of the hunting.

Male lions though are effective hunters in their own right but they will hunt alone and use ambush hunting strategy which makes their hunt difficult to study and observe. Hidden at night and in the cover of long vegetation the male lion is difficult and dangerous to study.

A new report from a team including Carnegie’s Scott Loarie and Greg Asner  has been published in the  journal Animal Behavior tries to uncover this hidden world of the male African lion.

Using the very latest in technology the researchers were able to discover the main differences between the male and female hunting strategy.

First they took 3D maps of the area of study using  aircraft mounted laser mapping equipment that sent pulses of light across the African plains. This allowed them to build up a picture of the vegetation cover. The researchers then plotted GPS collar data from a sample of 7  lions in the Kruger National Park into the 3D maps. This allowed them to understand the lines of sight  – or viewsights – that the lions had.

What they found was that during the day both males and females used vegetation to rest and get shelter from the sun. Both at night there were noticeable differences in the use of vegetation.

Female lions stayed predominately in areas where they had a large viewsight which were areas of low density vegetation. This was the same whether the females were hunting or were resting.

The males though stayed in areas of dense vegetation and areas with limited viewsights. Using the cover of the vegetation the male lions undertook an ambush hunting strategy. This strategy meant that male lions could be successful hunters even though they did not have the same levels of co-operation that females use when hunting on the open savannas.

Understanding the difference in the ways that male and female lions hunt is essential in modern large carnivore conservation as vegetation control is an important conservation tool.

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,” Loarie said.

The authors emphasized that their findings should be confirmed in other studies throughout Africa’s savannas.  Nevertheless, these results could have major implications for park management, which is often heavily involved with manipulating vegetation. 

“With large mammals increasingly confined to protected areas, understanding how to maintain their habitat to best support their natural behavior is a critical conservation priority,” Asner said.


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