As you settle down in your vehicle to watch a pride of lions feast on a recent kill … or spot a leopard high in a tree with its lofty larder, it’s easy to think that these apex hunters almost ‘pluck’ their meals out of the air; that their hunting efforts easily pay off. But is that the case? How successful are these predators usually?
Although rightfully known as the King of Beasts, lions are strong and powerful. Yet, they’re probably the worst hunters of Africa’s big predators … quite content to ‘steal’ the kills of others whenever they get the chance. They’re lazy and are not fast runners. Nor do they have the stamina to chase their prey over distances. They’re more likely to stalk their prey or ambush them, especially during the day. They’ll also give up the chase rather quickly.
Female lions normally do the hunting for the pride, often alone or in pairs. On their own, they have a fairly low success rate of around 18%; in a group, this can go up to around 30%. Their best hunting is usually at night.
As they’re big and powerful, lions are the only predators that will attempt to catch larger prey, like buffalo, zebra, giraffe and wildebeest – or even hippo and elephant!
Here’s a thrilling video of three lionesses trying to hunt waterbuck … without much luck, as it happened.
Far more successful than lions, leopards are more silent and stealthy when it comes to hunting. Statistics on their success rate can vary greatly: from 38% for some individuals to 28% for a female with cubs or a mere 14% for a lone male.
For its size, a leopard is the most powerful of African cats, able to pull a carcass of more than 50% of its body weight up into a tree, often vertically. They do this to avoid their kills being stolen by larger predators such as lion and hyena.
Unlike lions, leopards will try to sneak up as close to their prey before making their move.
The fastest land mammals, cheetahs have an excellent hunting success rate – an average of almost 50%. Happier in wide open grasslands where visibility is good, cheetahs can run at speeds of around 90 km (almost 60 mph!)
As soon as they’ve made their kill, they will try and move it into deeper bush and shade, but their speed takes its toll. Often they are so exhausted from the chase that they cannot fight off a few opportunistic predators; even jackals have been witnessed stealing their kills.
African wild dogs
Arguably the best hunters in the world, these puppy-like predators hunt in packs and have a kill rate of over 85%. Their small size also counts against them as they can lose their kills to larger predators like hyena or lion, especially if they’re outnumbered. Obviously, the greater the pack numbers, the higher its success rate.
Their prey can consist of small antelope to animals ten times their weight – like kudus and wildebeest. They have excellent stamina and will keep up the chase over long distances, gradually wearing down a hapless animal. A fair sized pack of dogs can strip the flesh off an animal in 10 – 15 minutes flat.
They also need to hunt more often as any kills are shared. They’ll return from a successful hunt to any waiting pups, injured or ill dogs and regurgitate their food for them.