Lions are nocturnal animals so they generally hunt at night. Most of the foods they consume include wildebeest, zebras, antelopes, gazelles, waterbuck, warthogs, and in riskier instances, giraffes and buffalo. Lions will stalk prey from a very close distance during the day and then wait until after dark to strike. Although they have reputations as apex predators, there are some deficiencies in their hunting tactics. Due to their reliance on eyesight, they often inadvertently reveal their hiding spot because they peak their head out to monitor the movement of their prey. They also do not pay attention to the direction of winds so their scent is easily detected. Finally, they can only get up to 50 mph, which is much slower than their prey.
Despite these hunting deficiencies, lions remain successful hunters because of the numerous prey in the area and the fact that lions hunt in groups. A lion only eats about 25 to 30 animals per year and their prey is highly abundant so they have plenty of options to choose from. Lions are the only cats that hunt in a group, which is the main reason why they are able to take down larger prey. They close in on their prey as a group and attack from the rear or side. The final kill is made by crushing their prey’s windpipe leading to asphyxiation or rupturing major arteries in the neck. The female lions do most of the hunting in prides but they only eat after the adult males, then its the cubs turn. Each lion consumes about 40 pounds of meat in one sitting and over the next couple days they will rest and recuperate to repeat the hunting process all over again.
Some of our lion cubs enjoying a rib cage together – Photo courtesy of Emilie Gupta
As nocturnal animals, tigers mainly rely on their vision to help stalk their prey. Unlike cheetahs and lions, they mostly live in habitats that have a lot of vegetation making camouflage with their surroundings more effective. Tigers generally hunt alone and will silently stalk their prey nearby for a very long time. Once close enough, they will pounce and either snap their victim’s spinal cord or grab their throat, which contains essential arteries. Tigers are able to reach speeds of 30 to 50 mph and can jump 30 feet horizontally, which also helps them take down their prey. They will then drag their meal to an isolated area and will often hide the remnants to finish the next day.
A tiger can eat one fifth of its body weight in 24 hours and over a year they average 50 deer-sized meals. In terms of what they eat, tigers like to consume many different species, which vary depending on the region the tiger inhabits. Overall, their prey consist of moose, pigs, cows, horses, buffalo, goats, deer species, and occasionally tapirs, elephants, rhinoceros calves, small bear species, leopards, and wild dogs. Unlike other cats, tigers are great swimmers and occasionally they will hunt in the water and catch animals like fish and crocodiles.
Kemala the Sumatran Tiger showing off her exceptional jaw strength – Photo courtesy of Emilie Gupta
Cheetahs are the only big cats that are diurnal, meaning they hunt during the day, especially in the early morning or late afternoon. They are also solitary animals so they hunt alone, however in some instances a few males will hunt together forming coalitions. Due to the fact that cheetahs don’t have the cover of night to hide them like most predators, they have had to adapt very unique hunting techniques. Cheetahs have binocular vision that allows them to see up to three miles away very clearly and spot prey long before their prey can see them. On top of their incredible sight, cheetahs also utilize stealth and camouflage when approaching their target. They will use the tactics of any good hunter such as moving low in tall grasses, approaching from downwind to conceal their scent, and using natural rises in the land like hills or termite mounds to hide behind.
Despite using all of these precautions, hunting remains a challenge because their prey live in herds, meaning they are constantly on watch for any potential danger. A cheetah’s diet generally consists of smaller hoofed animals like wildebeest, gazelles, and impalas. Although the cheetahs are excellent hunters, their greatest advantage in capturing prey is their speed. Cheetahs can run up to 70 mph, but they are only able to run at this speed for about 20-30 seconds. Since they are only able to run at fast speeds for around 500 meters, they must position themselves as close as possible to their prey before attacking. This is why it is essential for cheetahs to have both speed and superior camouflage. Cheetahs are successful in killing their prey 1 out of 10 tries, however most of the time their meal gets taken away by larger carnivores like lions, hyenas, wild dogs, and leopards. They might be predators, but they know when to walk away from a fight. An injury could be life threatening, so they are better off giving up their meal and trying again.
Mchumba licking up every bit of her mid-day snack – Photo courtesy of Emilie Gupta
Despite their reputation as bloodthirsty animals, the majority of a bear’s diet is actually herbivorous. Bears are generally omnivores, meaning they eat a variety of meats and plants. The two most common bears in North America are the black bear and brown bears. Although, black bears are not as well equipped as brown bears to dig, 85% of a black bears’ diet consists of vegetation including grasses, roots, berries, acorns, nuts, grass and other plants. Furthermore, they receive most of their protein from insects, especially bees. The idea that bears like honey actually originated from the fact that bears enjoy feeding on bee larvae because of the high nutritional value. In addition to insects and vegetation, some black bears will catch salmon, trout, suckers, and catfish depending on the availability in their habitat.
Donna enjoying the sunshine and waiting to get fed – Photo courtesy of Emilie Gupta
Brown bears, on the other hand, are excellent diggers so almost 90% of their diet comes from vegetation. They eat a variety of plant life such as berries, grasses, flowers, acorns, nuts, pine cones, as well as mosses, fungi, and mushrooms. Similarly to black bears, brown bears feed on insects and most will get half of their yearly calories from moths alone. Brown bears also feed on fish more often than black bears, which is why they are a larger species. Despite the fact that both species mostly consume plant life, they still get some of their calories from meat. Although they are capable of and in rare cases do hunt, bears actually prefer to scavenge off other animals’ kills. Why catch your own when someone else has already done the work? In more recent years, as urban development has expanded, bears have been also using human-created food sources as a reliable meal, which has become dangerous to both parties.
Mak eating his daily dose of greens while helping us with landscaping – Photo courtesy of Emilie Gupta