Are Kruger Lions Suffering from Pica?

This may be a sign that a lion or lions in Kruger NP are suffering from pica. Either an individual lion or some members of a pride of lions are gnawing on visitors’ car tyres causing them to explode. This is completely abnormal and bizarre behavior and it is causing consternation among the Kruger National Park management and startling tourists who find themselves stranded after one of their car’s tires (tyres) explodes.

Kruger lions and tourists
Kruger lions and tourists. Photo: video screenshot. This is a large pride.
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Tourists can help

They have been warned not to get out of their vehicles to change tyres for obvious reasons. They have, however, been advised to photograph the lion or lions who have done the damage. This will allow park rangers to track them to try and get to the bottom of this unusual behaviour.

It is reported that there have been a dozen attacks on car tyres and park rangers expect more to follow. It may well be the case that there have been unreported incidents. Glenn Phillips, the park’s managing executive said that the abnormal behaviour was a cause for concern and it might pose a danger to the occupants of vehicles.

Once they have identified the animal or animals they will attach a tracking collar and the rest of the pride will be marked to help researchers understand the motivation behind this behaviour.

Mr Phillips says that the recent spate of tyre gnawing has been reported in the central Satar area, which is a popular area to see the big cats. It’s a fertile area which draws a large number of prey animals for the lions.

Although visitors have been asked to take photographs they have been advised to do so with great caution and not to take close-ups and selfies. A particular danger concerns visitors in open safari vehicles.

“Visitors should not get too close to any animals for footage. Keep windows closed and keep arms and head within the vehicle,” said Mr Phillips.

So what is causing this behavior? Some have speculated that the Lions are attracted by the warmth of the smell of the rubber and they appear to have become desensitized to the noise of the tyre bursting.

Pica in cats

My first thought was the domestic cat condition called pica. Most cat owners have heard about it. It occurs when domestic cats eat non-nutritional objects. It can affect any animal including humans. It is often manifest when cats chew or suck on wool or other kinds of fabric. It’s believed that this is caused by early weaning. Another cause may be obsessive-compulsive disorder. This may be due to stress.

Pica is a psychological disorder manifested in the animal’s appetite for non-nutritive substances. Sometimes mineral deficiencies are associated with this condition. However the most likely explanation is that it is a mental health issue.

Serval with pica

Five years ago I wrote about a captive serval (a medium-sized African wild cat species) with pica. In this instance it seems that the cause was because the animal was weaned too early. The serval developed behaviours that were dangerous to her health such as eating blankets, pillows and furniture inside the foster home. The serval was taken from her mother and fostered by a person.

I wonder, therefore, whether one of this pride of lions is suffering from mental health issues due to stress. I think it should be investigated. Another aspect of this behaviour is that it highlights the enormous bite force of the lion because we know how strong vehicle tyres are. It is extraordinary that an animal can bite through a tyre to the point where it explodes.

4 thoughts on “Are Kruger Lions Suffering from Pica?”

  1. Learning to puncture tires is not really a definition of pica. Perhaps the lions are sick of the tourists. They’ll be in real trouble if one of the lions figures out they can break out a window and grab a snack. It’s unlikely a lion would recognize glass it would simply be pouncing prey.
    My thoughts on this is are tourists that are rolling down windows to get better pictures and tossing food to the lions.
    When humans make actual wildlife a theme park stuff is going to happen. Didn’t anyone watch Jurassic Park. There is an underlying theme in there that you cannot tame wild animals. By inserting humans even in vehicles you are changing the relationship between humans and animals. The lions are going to eventually react to the ongoing stimulus.

    • I agree it is not a definition of pica but perhaps they want to eat a bit of the tyre. That is not mentioned but it seems very possible. I think the tourists are stressing the lions. Once again it is a failure of humans to manage wildlife. We have to interfere. The only real solution is to leave them alone completely but that would not be commercially acceptable. Money as usual is at the root of the problem.

      • The parks are supported by money , the only traffic allowed should be tour buses and there should be strict regulation for the behavior of tourists and they should be limited. People in their own cars are going to act like jerks. It’s human nature. They act like prey in their cars the lions attacking the vehicles in some form should not be unexpected. Think of it like your cat watching fish in an aquarium or birds at the window. I would say the lions are acting out in stress not pica. The tire is the softest part of most cars.
        The most dangerous animal in the world will always be a wild predator that has been acclimated to humans.
        On the list of things I would not do. Drive my car through a park filled with wild meat eating predatory lions.


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