4 animals that eat lions {Are there any threats to their survival?}

In the usual cycle of nature, lions will eat animals instead of the other way around. Lions have very few predators to worry about, since they are the apex predators in their food chain and also happen to be the middle of their food web. While this holds true for every healthy adult, it is not the same case for a young cub or an old, sick, or wounded lion.

In the case of a weak, old, or young lion, they will need to worry about a few enemies, especially hyenas and leopards, since they will often try to steal lion kills and compete with them. On the other hand, humans are a major threat to lion populations since the animal is a popular trophy target, and humans will retaliate against the killing of their livestock by killing lions. Additionally, certain communities will kill lions for ritualistic reasons, and humans are an indirect threat to the animals due to competition for prey and habitat losses.

Not many animals will attempt to get close to a lion or even eat it when it dies, and some animals will even attempt to fight back when a lion tries to attack them.

Lion predators

  1. Hyenas

Lions and hyenas are mortal enemies, at least for the most part, similar to what movies like The Lion King displayed. Aside from their intense rivalries however, they have a common goal that unites them: to survive in the wild at all costs. After all, obtaining food is difficult for both of them, despite their statuses as apex predators that have nothing much to worry about.

With that information in mind, you may wonder if hyenas consider lions to be a food source. Yes, they do, although the case of hyenas hunting lions is very rare and they will prefer eating the lion if it is already dead or if it is left alone. Moreover, hyenas will avoid the male lions and will only attack cubs and weak lionesses.

Lion cubs are vulnerable to hyena attacks, since they are defenseless and rely exclusively on their mothers for the first year after their birth. If the lioness mother abandons her cubsor fails to hide them in a safe location, hyenas will see them and seize the chance to kill and eat them. The motive behind this is to eliminate future rivals, rather than relying on cubs as a source of food.

If the hyenas decide to attack a lion pride, they will do so in large numbers as a lion can kill a sole hyena easily. Most of the hyenas will aim to distract the adult lions, while other hyenas in the pack will steal the cubs. Due to the reliability of this method, they will also use it when attempting to scavenge kills from other animals.

Not only do hyenas eliminate lion cubs though, but lions will also do the same to reduce their competition. The male lions will kill both adult and young hyenas to show its dominance, and this is fairly common as well because up to 60% of hyena deaths occur due to lion attacks.

While hyenas are open to eating a dead lion, they are still hunters and prefer hunting up to 80% of their food.  Since the two animals are highly competitive with each other, lions know hyena feeding calls and will come to defend their meals easily. They also have more violent encounters in the wild for other items besides food, especially in regards to their territorial defenses.

Despite hyenas having very powerful bites, lions are much stronger compared to them. Hyenas do not stand a chance against lions in death battles, and they will only attack lions if the odds are in their favor. Depending on the gender of the hyena, it will take an average of 10 hyenas to take down one lioness, while it takes about 20 of them to overpower a male lion.

  1. Leopards

Thanks to their elusive and secretive natures, leopards are quite difficult to figure out. However, they are another apex predator in their ecosystem, with very few threats to worry about; they are also the strongest climbers of the big cats. Their strength allows them to take down large animals as well, and makes them an iconic symbol of the African savannahs.

Although they live and adapt to a wide range of environments from woodlands to mountains and savanna grasslands, they have a strong preference for trees when they choose somewhere to live. Trees function as important prey-spotting spots, feeding places, and even living points. The tree is an important feeding position because a rotting carcass will always attract other predators, but hiding it in the tree discourages other predators from accessing it.

Leopards are generally opportunistic feeders and are solitary, rarely being seen with other leopards unless it is a mother looking after her cubs. While they prefer to avoid interacting with other predators like African wild dogs, spotted hyenas, and lions, they are not afraid of killing them if they need to reduce the competition for food. In very severe situations, they will find a lion attractive prey, especially defenseless cubs. On the other hand, an adult lion will retaliate by killing an adult leopard, particularly during territorial confrontations.

Other predators

  1. Vultures

These birds are large or medium-size birds of prey, and they come in two types: the New World vultures that live in the Americas, and the Old World vultures that live in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Thanks to their excellent eyesight, they can spot large carcasses from miles away on savanna or grassland plains, although this does not apply to their night vision.

Vultures are primarily scavengers and carnivores, so they will eat carrion of fresh dead animals, including lions that have recently died. It is common to see vultures flying over vast lands, occasionally following ungulates during their migrations, or mostly searching for carcasses. In terms of attacking living animals, they will always go for those showing signs of illness or injury, and rarely will they go for healthy animals.

  1. Jackals

There are three jackal subspecies, all which live in the same habitat range as lions: the black-backed, the side-striped, and the golden jackal that also lives in some parts of Asia and Europe. In terms of their diet, jackals are among the least picky animals you can find; they will eat anything they see as viable, even dead carcasses that have been rotting for some days.

Their food also includes lions, but the lions must be dead before they eat them; they will avoid going after live lions. Aside from that, they will scavenge on any kills that lions and other carnivores leave behind, as well as challenging other predators for their prey.

The threat of humans to lions

Few sounds are more bone-chilling and distinctive as a roaring lion, announcing to all other animals that it is the king of all. Human encounters with them are unforgettable, as their power is a reminder to you of your mortality when you cross its path. Although this means that the lion has very little to fear, human developments over the centuries mean that we are both its potential savior and biggest threat at the same time.

This is particularly evident over the last three decades, when the population of lions in the wild has gone down significantly by about 40%; the sharp declines are so bad that the IUCN has placed the lion under the Red List, denoting the danger of extinction. Unfortunately, all of the reasons behind this decline are from humans, with the top threats being human-lion conflicts, trophy hunting, habitat losses, and poaching.

Many organizations working in the conservation and tourism industries recognize this threat, and are tackling it using a variety of methods depending on the human threats present.

  1. Human-lion conflict

Of all the conflicts that involve humans and carnivores, there is none that is more difficult than the lion. This is due to several factors: one is that no wildlife ecosystem in Africa has total fencing, which allows the lions to get out of their conservation zones and attack livestock and people, and humans retaliating by killing the lions.

One threat to lion survival as a result of this conflict is poisoning, and this can lead to devastating effects. When people poison their livestock carcasses and an animal eats it, this can easily result in wiping out several animals in that food chain including lions.

Many conservation activists seek to reduce human-lion conflicts using several methods, but it is important to know that the problem cannot go away entirely as long as humans and lions live in the same areas. The communities of people around lion conservation areas do not kill lions anymore in the present day, and they are tolerating the presence of these animals by leasing the land to conservancies.

Another threat is increasing competition for grasslands, particularly affecting many communities in these areas due to their traditionally nomadic lifestyle. Many are now sedentary and opting to fence off their lands to avoid lions entering and attacking their livestock, which unfortunately cuts off the traditional migration routes and fragmenting lion habitats.

  1. Trophy hunting

Trophy hunters prefer using snares, which consist of trail lines and wire nooses, and these kill any animal above aspecific size. The method is indiscriminate in its targets and the snares are very effective, leading to decreasing lion populations overall. Snares are also convenient to set up and handle because they are inexpensive, practical in use, easy to construct, quiet operation, and impossible to escape from.

Among the trophy hunting targets is the trade in lion bones. Since countries in Asia are reconsidering their need for tiger conservation efforts, the lion is an unfortunate targetbecause they believe lion bones have the same medicinal benefits as tiger bones. In general, trophy hunting is a difficult issue to tackle, because many detractors believe the demand is mainly from byproducts of lion hunting such as bones and skins.

Trophy hunting is indiscriminate in its scope: any lion can be a target, including potential alpha males, lionesses, and adult males. When the lionesses die, the effects are even worse for the lion pride because the ability to produce cubs significantly reduces, and the cubs already present cannot eat because they depend on the lionesses to hunt. This leads to the new male killing off the cubs to stimulate any remaining lionesses to breed. On the other hand, killing the alpha males will in turn influence the number of lions in the pride and their genetic makeup, which weakens the pride over time.

  1. Habitat losses

There are three forms of habitat losses, as we will show in the table below:

Form of habitat loss
What it is and examples
Habitat destruction
This refers to when the habitat cannot support the animals and plants in it, leading to biodiversity loss and species extinction. Some examples include deforestation and urbanization.
Habitat fragmentation
This is the gradual separation of one habitat into several habitats, a problem that particularly affects lions because of their preference for continuity in their roaming and living space. These ways include conversion of grasslands into agricultural zones, introducing invasive species, and deforestation.
Habitat degradation
This is the process of damaging a habitat until it cannot support the animals that live in it. In the case of lions, this can occur through human activities such as pollution and agricultural activities.

 

Lions have disappeared from more than 90% of their original range, once covering the whole African landmass but now occupying a total habitat range of less than 700,000 square miles. As a closer comparison, lion populations are less than half of what they were in 1994 when The Lion King premiered in theatres, according to the Wildlife Conservation Network.

The biggest reason behind this is human encroachment. Since lions mainly live on large connected lands, these habitats are decreasing in size every day. The increase in human settlements in these lands means that the animals dominating the landscape are cattle and other domestic animals, and the habitats are also fragmenting because of urbanization. This leaves the lions closer to human settlements, and increases the chances of them attacking livestock.

The best solution for this problem is encouraging the coexistence of humans and lions. This is through creating national parks and game reserves, which provide the best chances of protection and reduce human-lion conflicts, as well as being financially viable income generators for a country through tourism activities. In regards to agricultural expansion, many conservationists are in close communication with local communities living alongside the lions, and they help in educating them on preventive measures.

  1. Poaching

According to the IUCN, populations of wild lions have declined by almost 45% between 1993 and 2014. While habitat losses and lower numbers of wild prey are a major cause behind this, poaching is becoming an increasing threat through bush meat trading and hunting them for their claws and teeth to make various items.

Lions are becoming poaching targets due to the reduction in elephant and rhino ivory trade, especially due to demand from Asian countries. The reason behind getting specifically teeth and claws is unknown, although the reason behind it may be more practical as it is easier to extract these parts than going for the bones or skin. Additionally, the smaller size of the claws and teeth makes them easier to smuggle and trade on black markets.

However, there are efforts made to fight the problem, including tracking of lions as they move around, getting networks of informants, and improving technology regarding keeping parks safe from intruders. Involving the communities living around these parks and conservation areas is also important, as they are better involved when they know the benefits of conserving lion populations.

  1. Climate change

Natural systems and habitats have gone through drastic changes due to changing climates, and it is putting many animals at risk including lions. Many animals are on the brink of extinction because of non-climatic stressors, but climate change forces many of them to change their habitat preferences, reduce their accessibility to food and water, and change their foraging abilities.

The impacts to ecosystems are immense, as the survival rates and reproductive rates decrease, and the long-term relationships between species changes. Lions are very vulnerable to these changes more than other big cats like cheetahs and leopards, because increase in droughts or floods changes their reproductive sequences. Climate change also leads to other problems such as human-lion conflicts and habitat fragmentation.

Conclusion

Lions may be the top predator in their food chain, but they are still vulnerable to humans and their competitors. Since humans are their biggest threat, it is important to learn conservation efforts and lessen the chances of needing to kill them due to conflicts.

FAQs

Do lions have any predators?

No, they do not, especially when they are healthy adults. In few cases, injured or sick ones are vulnerable to hyena attacks and leopards, while dead lions are food for vultures and jackals.

Can hyenas kill lions?

Yes, although they do so in packs to increase their chances of success. A sole hyena is more likely to be killed by a lion instead of killing it.