Do lions cover their kills?

G.B. Schaller in his book The Serengeti Lion (1972) examined several hundred lion kills and only on 13 occasions did he record lions covering the remains of their prey animals. The problem for lions is that over much of their African range the landscape is very open and scavengers are very numerous which discourages scrapping dirt and leaves over a carcass when they have eaten their fill. Therefore, lions do not cover their kills normally. This is in contrast to the mountain lion (puma) which often buries prey in leaves and the like to cache the carcass.

Scavengers force lions to eat prey where they kill them
Scavengers force lions to eat prey where they kill them. Image: public domain.
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

However, if a group of lions cannot finish a large kill they do occasionally try and protect the remains. They might lie nearby and they might even try to bury the carcass.

However, lions usually scrape dirt over a carcass when they’ve had their fill and are abandoning the remains. Jonathan Kingdon in his book East African Mammals: An atlas of evolution in Africa (1989) believes that this is a “non-functional vestige of an original pattern in which kills were cached and revisited” in the words of Fiona Sunquist in her book Wild Cats of the World in reference to Kingdon’s work.

When several lions are eating a carcass, it is usually torn to pieces. Each lion eats whatever they can get at. They tend to eat viscera, thighs and rump first. In some regions of Africa, it is reported that lions disembowel their prey and bury the viscera but apparently it is rare in the Serengeti according to Schaller.

Sometimes lions may carry small prey animals or a piece of its body to a nearby thicket before starting to eat. But large animals are normally eaten where they are killed and they start feeding immediately.

Schaller writes: “Wildebeest and zebra kills are seldom moved far, not only because of their weight but also because any attempt by one lion to drag a body away often may cause others to pull in the opposite direction, as if afraid of being deprived of a meal”.

This compares with tigers who often drag their kills long distances using enormous strength. Lions normally start eating without any preliminary activity. This is because they are surrounded all the time by hungry members of their pride and scavengers. They need to get on with it and kills are normally consumed within an hour.

In short, lions eat fast and they need to. Schaller writes, “lions bolt meat so rapidly that if many are present only the skeleton of a zebra may be left after 30 minutes”.

Below are more articles on lion prey.

follow it link and logo