Lion Catches and Kills Impala Mid-Air

Jul 16 2015

Not many experience a hunt as indicated in this clip in their lifetime, and for some it’s exciting, for others it is heart-breaking. I am one of those that find it difficult to watch, even though I realise it is nature taking its course. With relatively small hearts and lungs lions are not fast runners; a maximum speed of +-70kph (depends or reading material), nor do they have the stamina to keep this pace for more than a 100 – 200m. Latest Sightings chats to Marc Lindsay-Rae head of the Specialist Safari division at Africa Direct regarding the dynamics of a lion hunt. He says, “As explained above lions are not fast and rely on stalking their prey and seldom charge until they are within a range of 30m. The element of surprise during the ambush allows them to catch prey which are much quicker than them.”

TB: Can you please describe and detail the hunting technique of lions, including how they bring their prey down?
MLR: Hunting techniques vary depending on location, type of prey they hunting and what specific ecosystem they live in. Generally speaking this is how they hunt. Lions often hunt prey that are much quicker than them so they require skill, patience and well executed techniques to bring down their prey. They rarely chase an animal that is further than 30m away. To get within range, they usually rely on stalking. They use cover with great skill and show remarkable ability to anticipate and take advantages of opportunities to get within striking range. Lions frequently attempt a running approach (like seen in the video) towards an animal that is unaware or distracted, freezing instantly and dropping to the ground when the preys head lifts to look around. Once the preys head drops again, lions continue their approach using cover and concealment to get with a close striking range. On group hunts, females move together as a broad front fanning out and males usually tail the pride taking little part in the hunt until they prey has been caught. If it is an impala kill, he usually runs in and steals the food but if it is a buffalo kill, the females require the males to help with their brute force and strength to pull down, secure and kill the buffalo.

Once within catching distance of its prey, a lion has to overpower and kill it without getting injured in the process. Game such as impala are normally clutched with both paws, brought down and quickly killed with a strong bite to the neck or throat. To bring down larger game, a lion usually comes in at an oblique angle, rears and throws a paw over the rump or shoulder, and using its full weight and strength, pulls the prey down backwards and sideways. To gain addition leverage, the lion may sometimes grip the back of the neck, shoulder or back with its jaws. Once the victim is down, the lion usually lunges for the throat or nose and proceeds to kill it by strangulation, maintaining a firm grip until movement subsides. The stranglehold protects the lion from the horns and hooves of the struggling prey.

TB: How do lions communicate with each other while hunting?
MLR: Lions respond to one another’s posture and movement, not to facial expressions or noise. They maintain silence during the hunt. Studies of the tactics of group hunting by lions give a similar basic plan of the hunting process. When the group spots the prey a hunt is often initiated by a single lion looking at it, to which the other lions respond by looking in the same direction – the only clear form of “communication” evidenced in the hunting process. The group fans out, with certain lions stalking at a greater distance to encircle the prey. The encircling lions launch the attack, seemingly to drive the prey towards the others who ambush from their cover position. It is also suggested but not proven that the black on the back of the ears and the black on the end of the tail are used to communicate during a hunt. A little flick left or right of the tail or ear to give direction. Like I said, this is not fact but merely some people’s theory. 

TB: Is there a feeding hierarchy and does a fight often develop over prey?
MLR: Lions share food but often grudgingly, depending on how hungry they are and the size of the prey. Pride males are usually the most irascible regularly monopolising small antelope killed by the females. When game is scarce, cubs are the first to suffer and their own mothers won’t even share their food. Unfortunately it is every lion for themselves at the kill. At best, feeding lions often growl, snarl and slap one another to gain access to meat. This “scramble competition” is due to a lack of accepted rank hierarchy in lion society. If weaker lions didn’t put up a fight, they are far likelier to starve during periods of food scarcity.  

TB: How often do lions drink water?
MLR: Most lions drink water daily if available, but can go 4-5 without it. Lions in arid areas seem to obtain needed moisture from the stomach contents of their prey and from the blood of their kills. From what I have read in the past, some prides have gone 2 weeks without water and survived of the blood from their kills.

Important: *Please note that this commentary could vary greatly depending on area, season, size of the clan/pride, prey availability and the specific animal species (3 hyena species). This commentary is “generally speaking”*


Marc Lindsay-Rea

At thirty, Marc Lindsay-Rea, who is from the little town of Empangeni in the Kwa Zulu Natal area of South Africa, already has extensive experience in the African bush. This allows him to be a professional in both tour operating and field guiding divisions.

In addition to the bush Marc also has a massive passion for wildlife photography. He has been placed first and third in two international competitions: Africa Geographic / Canon Field Guides Competition and Wildside Nikon All Africa Competition respectively. Davland Calendars and Art publishers have also purchased some of his images to include in their 2012/2013 calendars of wildlife in action, which is sold internationally.


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