Do Hyenas Eat Lions? Here's Why Hyenas Can Hunt Lions!

Shirin Biswas
Feb 29, 2024 By Shirin Biswas
Originally Published on Nov 09, 2021
Fact-checked by Niyati Parab
Hyena walking on the grass.
Age: 3-18
Read time: 8.7 Min

Lions and hyenas have such a rivalry that even humans are aware of it!

In fact, humans are so fascinated by these animals that they have even made movies about them! Let's talk about lions and hyenas and whether they eat each other!

Lions eat hyenas only when they are starved and do not have any other animals to kill and feast on. At the same time, even hyenas are never keen on tackling a pride of lions since the king of the jungle, and his pride, can easily overpower an entire clan of hyenas and completely erase them from the jungle.

Hyenas, however, are quite brave in the sense that they often go ahead and kill lion cubs. Understandably, this is one of the reasons why lions often do away with hyenas. It is, in fact, interesting to note that lions only kill hyenas and do not generally eat them. This is because lions only like to feast on herbivores. Hyena meat is not nutritional enough for lions. Hyenas even eat dead animals, and hence, hyena flesh is unlikely to satisfy a lion's appetite. Read ahead to know about lions and hyenas and their eating habits!

If you enjoy reading this article, why not also check out hyena facts and do hummingbirds eat bugs here at Kidadl?

Can a hyena kill a lion?

The rivalry between hyenas and lions is legendary and even has been mentioned in popular culture in the form of movies such as 'The Lion King'. However, there are some discrepancies in the relationship depicted between the two animals.

There are some depictions that make it seem like hyenas will never kill lions. While this may be true in some cases, hyenas hunt lions when the opportunity is presented and when there is a dire shortage of food for these animals. Since hyenas hunt in packs, it is more of a team effort when hyenas actually manage to kill a lion. Since lions are large and heavy, it is essential for an entire pack of around 20 hyenas to tackle a single lion.

Movies like 'The Lion King' often mislead us into thinking that hyenas will only wait for the demise of a lion and then lap up its remains. However, it is not just the remains of a lion that a hyena would be interested in. If a pack of hyenas suspects that a lion may be sick or maybe compromised in terms of strength, they are sure to launch an attack on the king of the jungle himself. However, hyenas may also make an attempt to eat lions if there is a deficiency of food around the jungle. In a jungle, there are several times of the year when finding suitable prey gets difficult. Hyenas usually feed on herbivores and other such easy targets, but when push comes to shove, they do not shy away from laying their hands on stronger and more intimidating animals like lions.

It must be understood that hyenas and lions are both wild animals. When the situation calls for extreme methods to be put to use, these animals are forced to stray away from their habitual ways. It is undeniable that hyenas eat dead lions since they are mainly scavengers. Hyenas fight lions when the situation demands them to.

Why do lions not eat hyenas?

Lions, hyenas and their rivalry are definitely legendary, and the simple reason behind this is that both the animals are carnivores. Since both lions and hyenas are interested in the same type of food, it is but natural that they would think of each other as competition.

While humans only try to defeat their competitors, wild animals kill other apex predators to reduce the competition and have an easier time trying to find suitable prey. Lions are known to be quite picky when it comes to their choice of food, and understandably so. It would be much easier for them to feast on some animals if there weren't any other animals that would be looking to feast on the same type of food. While it is true that lions kill hyenas, they hardly ever eat hyena meat. This is mainly because of two reasons. First of all, lions consider hyenas enemies and even pests. Hence, they would only be interested in killing the animal and getting rid of competition instead of eating it. On the other hand, lions consume herbivores, which give them enough nutrition. Hyenas, however, are carnivorous animals, and hence, their meat would hardly be able to meet a lion's nutritional needs.

While it is true that lions kill hyenas and refuse to eat them on most occasions, sometimes, when adult or old lions are hurt and cannot be bothered to chase after other prey, they can even eat hyenas. It must be kept in mind that the king of the jungle will only eat hyenas when there is a scarcity of food or when the king himself is suffering from any illness.

Hyenas, on the other hand, often kill baby lions. These predators hunt lions and eat lion cubs both to show dominance and to simply have some food on their table. Adult lions are tougher to kill for hyenas since they can easily overpower an entire pack. Young lions who haven't developed the skill set required for killing animals and saving themselves from vicious attacks from striped hyenas and spotted hyenas are an easier target. Hence, male lions often also kill striped and spotted hyenas to save lion cubs from any unannounced attacks.

Hyena sitting and relaxing.

Why are lions afraid of hyenas?

People consider hyenas and lions enemies since they are mostly hostile towards each other. Male lions kill striped hyenas and spotted hyenas since they often eat lion cubs. Young hyenas are also vulnerable at the hands of lions since they are eaten or at least killed at the very beginning of their lives.

Lions consider hyenas as competition. This is not because lions are particularly afraid of hyenas. The fact is that lions are mostly just protective of their territory and would like to have all the possible prey to themselves. Hence, killing hyenas and marking their territory is the only viable option that they have.

Lions, are not scared of hyenas at all. In fact, they are well capable of eradicating entire clans of hyenas should they wish to do so. Hence, it is more of a choice that lions have in terms of co-existing with the other predators or erasing them from the jungle. A fight between lions and hyenas is likely to break out since these animals are predators. Understandably, if one takes away all the prey, the other will be left with nothing.

Since hyenas are clever and also feast on dead animals, they often have more choices in terms of their diet. Lions, on the other hand, only feast on animals that they themselves kill. Hence, if a clan of hyenas decides to kill a few easy targets, the lions will be left with the only choice of killing hard-to-kill prey.

Lions, therefore, think of hyenas as scum or pests and kill them just like humans hire pest control in order to deal with an infestation. In the same way that humans do not feast on the dead pests that have been removed from their house, even lions would just kill an entire clan and not feast on its remains. This is also because predators typically only eat herbivores. Eating herbivorous animals gives both lions and hyenas much more nutrients than the flesh of a carnivore does. Furthermore, research and observations suggest that lions do not enjoy hyena meat. This may have to do with the taste or texture, but that remains to be seen.

The jungle has its own rules, and the enmity between lions and hyenas is one of them. All we can do is talk about these fascinating traits that animals have and try to get to know them better!

Hyenas, on the other hand, are quite scared of lions. This is both because lions eat hyenas and because if a hyena hurts lions or their cubs, it is likely that the adult members of the lion pride will attack the entire hyena clan. It is thus in the best interest of hyenas that they stay away from rather aggressive kinds such as African lions and only approach them when they are hurt or injured. Hyenas often only feast on dead lions since it saves them from the hassle and threat of being crushed and killed by a lion that is alive and in its prime. The fact that spotted hyenas often mark their own territories and try to stay away from the king of the jungle and his pride as much as possible also adds to the age-old rivalry between lions and hyenas.

Are hyenas afraid of female lions?

Lions often eat hyenas, and that should be enough for any spotted or striped hyena and its clan to stay away from the pride. More so, hyenas also maintain a safe distance from female lions in order to make sure that the queen is not upset.

Female lions are often aggressive while defending the pride and their cubs, and hence, they enter a defensive and possible killing mode rather easily. In order to make sure that the fate of the entire hyena group is not compromised and written in blood, hyenas maintain their distance from the female members of the pride.

However, hyenas are capable of approaching lionesses in order to kill them. Additionally, it usually takes a ratio of four to one to overpower a female lion.

Did You Know...

Hyenas depend on their speed to protect themselves.

Both hyenas and lions kill cheetahs.

Hyenas survive on the flesh of live animals, as well as dead ones.

Hyenas move quite quickly and tire out their enemies before killing them.

Lions are extremely heavy and strong, and it is well understood that an animal that can kill a human with a single paw will hardly have any trouble when dealing with a couple of hyenas! Thus, lions are definitely stronger than hyenas.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly factsfor everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for 'Do hyenas eat lions? Here's why hyenas can hunt lions!' then why not take a look at 'Shape of Earth: is Earth round? Curious planet facts revealed for kids', or '11 amazing Shoemaker-Levy 9 facts for curious kids!'?

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Written by Shirin Biswas

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English Language and Literature

Shirin Biswas picture

Shirin BiswasBachelor of Arts specializing in English Language and Literature

With a degree in English from Amity University, Noida, Shirin has won awards for oratory, acting, and creative writing. She has a wealth of experience as an English teacher, editor, and writer, having previously worked at Quizzy and Big Books Publishing. Her expertise lies in editing study guides for children and creating engaging content.

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