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Research Highlights - Lion Hunting

In African savannas, emerging evidence suggests that male lions might not be as dependent upon females for hunting, as traditional science suggests. It turns out that the males may also be successful hunters. However, difficulty in locating lion kills and objectively characterizing landscapes has greatly complicated the comparison of male and female lion hunting strategies in the past.

Using CAO Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) measurements of vegetation structure in Kruger National Park, South Africa, combined with global positioning system (GPS) telemetry data on lion kills, we determined the lines-of-sight or viewsheds for lions where they killed their prey. We found significant differences in use of vegetation structure by male and female lions during their hunts. Male lions tend to hunt in dense, woody vegetation areas, maintaining stealth (and avoiding traditional ecological survey). Females tend to hunt on more open savanna grassland areas, thereby maintaining their reputation as the primary meat-winners among lion prides. The CAO results proved consistent across many different types of prey species.

The influence of vegetation structure shaping predator-prey interactions is often discussed and argued, but quantitative evidence has remained scarce until now. CAO observations help explain how male lions, by specializing in ambush behavior, are able to rival female lions as successful hunters. Because manipulating vegetation structure, with fire for example, is a standard savanna management strategy, our results have direct impact on management decisions for the maintenance of lion and prey populations in African savannas.

This story is one in a series of CAO-based animal behavior studies. Others include native and invasive birds in Hawaiian forests, elephant in African savannas, primates in Amazonian forests, and more. Further reading on these can be found throughout the CAO Publications pages.

Three-dimensional vegetation imaging from the CAO, combined with field-based GPS data on lion kills, indicates lines-of-sight (white) during lion hunting.

Modeling the viewing distance for both predator and prey as quantified using airborne 3-D imaging.

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