Watch: Lions seen killing and feeding on another lion

A video has raised the question: How often do lions prey on other lions? An expert explains.

Graphic content warning: Not for sensitive readers and viewers

How often do lions eat lions? That is the question on people’s lips after a sighting of two lions battling with another lion, and eventually eating him, was posted by yesterday.

The gruesome battle to the death was captured by head guide Tyron Horne at AndBeyond Ngala Private Game Reserve, which shares an unfenced boundary with the Kruger National Park.

“I had been out on a drive with my guests all morning when a call came in on the radio that the male lions that once ruled this area were back. This was exciting because they had been pushed out by two other male lions. Their return meant they were ready to reclaim what was originally theirs,” he told

Horne explained that after feeding on a buffalo carcass, the two once-dominant lions crossed paths with the two males that had previously pushed them out of the pride. The former then went into full attack mode.

When Horne arrived on the scene, only three male lions were visible. One had already been chased off by the returning lions, he shared.

“What greeted us was truly shocking and left not only me but all of my guests silent for a few minutes. It was gruesome, to say the least; the two attacking males were covered in blood, which gave them a fierce look. The other male was on his back with blood covering his entire back and legs.”

With its intestines hanging out, the injured lion tried to defend itself. The attackers kept biting, however, until it stopped moving. The most unexpected part of the sighting was yet to come, however, as the attackers proceeded to eat their kill.

Carnivore scientist explains

When Caxton Local Media asked Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency carnivore scientist Gerrie Camacho if this behaviour is normal, he mentioned the infamous Sabi Sands Mapogo coalition (six male lions) that also went on the rampage, killing over 100 lions in the mid-2000s to 2012. The last two Mapogo lions were eventually killed by Kruger males, he explains.

“These dynamics happen all the time – there is usually a fearsome fight, which I have seen several times myself, but not them feeding like this. Once they are enraged and go into that killing mode, those hormones get into them and then they go into a ‘frenzy’.”

Camacho says how the lion was killed was unusual. He thinks it was because it tried to protect its lower spinal cord (the coccyx area), which attacking lions often target to immobilise their prey, and instead exposed his vulnerable underbelly. Eventually, however, Camacho says the more aggressive lion seemed to succeed in breaking its spine ‘quite high up’.

He adds that it does not mean they are cannibals, ‘although it might seem that way’. “I think it’s more a matter of them tasting blood and knowing it’s their territory and the enraged state they were in…”

Listen to Camacho’s observations about the killing:

Scarcity of food

Camacho says one species feeding on one of its own is known to happen.

He mentions that food sources have become scarcer since a drought in 2016 and that a similar incident recently happened in the Crocodile Bridge area, where lions fed on a lion that was killed. “It could be a matter of them finding it hard to find food all the time, and being hungry, then tasting the blood and deciding to feed.”

He believes that once the animal is dead and the aggressors have tasted the blood,  they don’t regard it as meat from their own species, because they do not have the same sentiments as humans.


Camacho says private reserves, which have their own growing resident lion populations, buffer the western boundary of the park. Often, these lions are pushed out of their territories and are forced to either stray out of the park and into communities, which lands them in hot water, or they choose to seek adjacent marginal areas, where they are not accepted.

He adds that the aggressors in the incident caught on camera were part of the older Mbiri lions, which originated from the Manyeleti Game Reserve. “They moved north into the Ngala area (the southern part of Timbavati). They were pushed out by the Guernsey males. They can’t go west because of the fences, so had to go north, south or east.”

He says they ended up in the southern part of the Greater Kruger system, which is saturated territorial-wise.

Camacho explains that ‘pull’ is because of the vacuums the displaced lions from private reserves assume are on the outside of these reserves, where they do not know they can run into conflict with humans. “The push effect is from stronger rivals. So at play are all these natural dynamics. For example, the Balule area is saturated with lions, as Ian Novak [general manager of Balule Nature Reserve] says: ‘There is a lion behind every bush’.”

Not necessarily revenge

He adds that because there is not an ‘open system anymore’, lions are forced into an area where they can’t go further west because of fences. “They have to see what territories they can take over, and could just as well have gone south and taken over another pride. So I don’t think they necessarily returned because they were mad at these lions – they saw an opportunity to kill and take them out.”

Camacho concludes that it is important for people to set aside human sentiments and remember these lions live under circumstances where ‘survival of the fittest’ is the only reason they are still alive.

“They go for the best shot to survive, get hungry, find it difficult to find food, and this is where you get these types of scenarios.”

Warning: The following video is not for sensitive viewers

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