Do African Lions Have A Favorite Prey Species?

Have you ever wondered if African lions have a particular favorite prey species? Well, the answer might surprise you. In the realm of the African savanna, these majestic predators roam, relying on their hunting skills to survive. While their reputation as the “king of the jungle” might suggest that they have a particular preference, recent research suggests otherwise. Despite their versatile hunting capabilities, African lions exhibit a rather flexible approach when it comes to selecting their prey species, adapting their preferences based on various factors such as availability and vulnerability. Let’s delve deeper into the fascinating world of these iconic big cats and explore the dynamics of their hunting behavior.

The Diet of African Lions

Overview of African lion diet

African lions are apex predators, known for their impressive hunting skills and ability to take down a wide range of prey. Their diet primarily consists of mammals, and they are opportunistic hunters, taking advantage of whatever prey is most readily available in their habitat. While they do not have a definitive favorite prey species, there are certain factors that influence their prey preferences.

Variety of prey species

African lions have a diverse range of prey species available to them. These include large herbivores such as buffalo, zebra, wildebeest, giraffe, warthog, impala, kudu, hartebeest, waterbuck, and Cape eland. Each of these prey species offers its own set of challenges and rewards for the lions.

Factors Influencing African Lion Prey Preference

Availability and abundance of prey

The availability and abundance of prey in an African lion’s habitat greatly influence its prey preferences. Lions are opportunistic predators and will target the most easily accessible and abundant prey species in their surroundings. If a particular prey species is scarce, lions will adapt their hunting strategies to target more readily available prey.

Habitat and hunting techniques

The specific habitat in which African lions reside also plays a role in their prey preferences. Lions in savannah or grassland habitats may have a higher likelihood of encountering species such as buffalo and zebra, while those in woodland or forested areas may have a greater chance of targeting prey like kudu and waterbuck. Additionally, different hunting techniques are employed based on the habitat and the specific behaviors of the prey species.

Prey selection based on size, age, and vulnerability

African lions often select their prey based on various factors such as size, age, and vulnerability. Lions typically prefer larger prey as it provides more sustenance and can sustain them for a longer period. Young or vulnerable individuals may be targeted due to their relative ease of capture. This selection process helps ensure the survival of the fittest within the prey population and maintains a healthy balance in the ecosystem.

Top Prey Species for African Lions


Buffalo are one of the preferred prey species for African lions. They are large herbivores that can weigh up to 1,500 kilograms (3,300 pounds), providing a substantial meal for a pride of lions. Buffaloes are also abundant in certain regions, making them an attractive option for lions looking for an easily accessible and ample food source.


Zebras are another important prey species for African lions. They often travel in large herds, making them an enticing target for lions looking to secure a plentiful meal. Additionally, zebras have predictable migration patterns, allowing lions to anticipate their movements and plan their hunts accordingly.


The wildebeest is a seasonal delight for African lions. Known for its participation in the Great Migration, wildebeest herds traverse vast distances, presenting an opportunity for lions to opportunistically target these massive gatherings. The sheer number of wildebeest in a migrating herd provides a higher likelihood of a successful hunt for the lions.


Hunting giraffes is a challenging endeavor for African lions due to their height and powerful kicks. However, when successful, bringing down a giraffe rewards the lions with an abundance of meat. Giraffes are typically targeted by lions when other prey is scarce or when the lions are in desperate need of sustenance.


Warthogs may not be as large as some of the other preferred prey species, but they are nonetheless an important food source for African lions. Warthogs are relatively easy to catch due to their slower pace compared to other prey animals, and they provide a substantial meal for a lion or lioness.


Impalas are small, agile antelopes that are abundant throughout Africa. Their high population numbers make them readily available prey for lions. Although they are not as large as other prey species, an impala can still provide a sufficient meal for a lion.


Kudu are large antelopes that are well adapted to woodland and bushveld habitats. Their muscular builds and impressive horns make them formidable prey, but lions are known to target them when the opportunity arises.


Hartebeest are large ungulates widely distributed across Africa. Their size and relatively slower speed compared to other antelope species make them an attractive target for lions. Hartebeest are often found in open grasslands or savannahs, providing an ideal hunting ground for lions.


Waterbuck are notable for their ability to survive in water-rich environments. They have a shaggy coat that helps them stay buoyant while crossing water bodies, making them challenging prey for lions. However, when lions successfully take down a waterbuck, they are rewarded with a significant amount of meat.

Cape Eland

Cape eland, the largest antelope species, can weigh up to 900 kilograms (2,000 pounds). Although they are not as common as other prey species, elands provide a substantial food source for lions when they manage to capture them.

Buffalo as a Preferred Prey

Abundance and availability

Buffalo are often considered a preferred prey species for African lions due to their abundance and availability in certain regions. Large herds of buffalo can be found in the grasslands and savannahs of Africa, making them easily accessible to lions. The high number of buffalo individuals provides a consistent source of food for lion prides.

Strengths and risks

Buffalo are formidable adversaries with the ability to injure or kill a lion during a hunt. Their massive size and powerful horns pose a significant risk to the lions. A lion must be careful and strategic in its approach to bringing down a buffalo. However, the reward of a successful buffalo hunt is well worth the effort and risk involved.

Hunting strategies for buffalo

When hunting buffalo, lions utilize their strength in numbers. Lion prides often work together, using a combination of stealth, coordination, and speed to separate an individual buffalo from the herd. By isolating a target, the lions can launch a synchronized attack, overwhelming the buffalo and minimizing the risk of injury to themselves.

Zebra: An Important Prey for Lions

Large herds and predictable migrations

Zebras frequently travel in large herds, attracting the attention of African lions. These herds provide an abundant supply of potential prey for the lions. The size of the herd makes it easier for lions to blend in and launch a surprise attack on an unsuspecting zebra.

Predictable seasonal migrations also make zebras an important prey species for lions. Lions can anticipate the movement patterns of migrating herds, positioning themselves strategically to intercept and hunt the zebras effectively.

Adaptations of zebras

Zebras possess several adaptations that make them challenging to hunt for lions. Their striking black and white striped coats create visual confusion, making it difficult for lions to single out an individual zebra while hunting. Additionally, zebras are known for their agility and speed, allowing them to quickly evade predators.

Challenges in hunting zebras

Despite their adaptations, zebras are not invincible to lion attacks. Lions typically target zebras by ambushing them from cover or using stealth to get within striking distance. By targeting weaker or injured individuals within a herd, lions maximize their chances of a successful hunt. However, zebras’ powerful kicks can prove lethal, posing a risk to the lions.

Wildebeest: A Seasonal Delight

Great Migration

The Great Migration is a remarkable natural phenomenon that occurs annually in the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. It involves the movement of millions of wildebeest, accompanied by zebra and other herbivores, in search of grazing land and water. This massive congregation of wildebeest presents an opportunity for African lions to feast on a seasonal abundance of prey.

Behavioral patterns

Wildebeest exhibit specific behavioral patterns during the Great Migration that are crucial for the successful hunting strategy of African lions. The wildebeest herds form dense groups, providing protection through numbers, but also making it easier for lions to single out individuals. The wildebeest also engage in synchronized birthing, resulting in large numbers of vulnerable calves, which become attractive targets for lions.

Hunting tactics during wildebeest migration

During the Great Migration, lions employ various hunting tactics to capitalize on the abundance of wildebeest. This includes isolating individual wildebeest from the herd, targeting weak or injured members, and coordinating attacks with fellow pride members to increase their hunting success. The ability to adapt their hunting techniques to the unique circumstances presented by the wildebeest migration ensures a steady and plentiful supply of food for the lions during this period.

Giraffe: A Difficult but Rewarding Prey

Unique challenges in hunting giraffes

Hunting giraffes poses unique challenges for African lions. Giraffes are the tallest land animals and have a great vantage point for spotting predators. Their long legs and powerful kicks make them formidable opponents. Approaching a giraffe undetected requires stealth and patience on the part of the lions.

Tactics employed by lions

Lions have developed specific tactics to overcome the challenges presented by giraffes. They often target younger or smaller giraffes that are less able to defend themselves. By launching coordinated attacks from multiple angles, lions can confuse and weaken the giraffe, bringing it down to the ground. Subduing a giraffe requires persistence and strength, but the reward of a substantial amount of meat makes it worth the effort.

Other Prey Species

While buffalo, zebra, and wildebeest are commonly recognized as the top prey species for African lions, several others also contribute to their diet.

Warthogs, with their slower speed and relatively smaller size, are a regular source of food for lions. Impalas, abundant throughout Africa, provide a readily available food source due to their high population numbers. Kudu, hartebeest, waterbuck, and Cape eland are often targeted by lions when the opportunity arises, depending on their habitat and availability in different regions.

Prey Preferences Across Different Regions

African lion prey preferences can vary across different regions due to variations in prey availability, habitat types, and climate conditions. For example, in savannah or grassland habitats, buffalo and zebra populations may be more abundant, leading to a higher preference for these species. In contrast, lions residing in woodland or forested areas may encounter a greater number of kudu and waterbuck, influencing their prey preferences accordingly.

Cultural and demographic factors can also play a role in prey preferences. Human settlements and activities may displace certain prey species or affect their abundance, indirectly influencing the selection of alternative prey by African lions.


While African lions do not have a definitive favorite prey species, their diet revolves around a variety of mammals found in their habitats. Factors such as prey availability, habitat type, and hunting techniques influence their preferences. Buffalo, zebra, wildebeest, giraffe, warthog, impala, kudu, hartebeest, waterbuck, and Cape eland are among the top prey species targeted by lions. Each prey species presents its own set of challenges and rewards, ensuring that lions are adaptable to changing conditions and can thrive in their natural environment.