Tetrapod Zoology

i-c8a80963abfc5ae3afce03f754fbed6b-lions vs giraffe.jpg

This is the third time that Tet Zoo has featured a dead giraffe (for the first time go here, and for the second go here). It’s not that I don’t like giraffes – quite the contrary – it’s just that anything and everything about them is fascinating. Lions Panthera leo are incredibly adaptable, and seem not only to develop special techniques that allow them to successfully tackle such formidable prey, but also to take advantage of special conditions that put the prey at a disadvantage. It is widely reported that lions have learnt that giraffes are disadvantaged when forced onto paved roads: they apparently run slower, get less traction, and are hence easier to bring down. So in Kruger National Park and elsewhere, lions have been seen killing giraffes on roads again and again and again…

In fact, while it used to be thought that giraffe-killing amongst lions was rare, it really seems not to be, nor do lions find it that difficult. Guggisberg (1975) reported at least ten giraffe kills that happened in Nairobi National Park between 1965 and early 1967, for example, and nine of the giraffes were adult. Despite this, the behaviour of at least some giraffes would suggest that the giraffes don’t regard lions as much of a threat. I think giraffes, particularly big bulls, become arrogant, but as you’ll see if you watch the video below, this is misplaced.

There are quite a few lion vs giraffe videos on youtube, below is one of the most informative (though note that it’s a composite, combining bits of several different hunts, and even some shots of captive lions snarling at the camera). The footage is amazing both because we get to see the awesome kicking power of giraffes in action, and because it shows how persistant and tough lions are. Don’t watch if you’re sentimental…

For previous Tet Zoo stuff on lion predatory behaviour, there’s an article on the elephant-killing Chobe National Park lions on ver 1 here. More on giraffes – and lions – in the near future.

Ref – –

Guggisberg, C. A. W. 1975. Wild Cats of the World. David & Charles. Newton Abbot & London.


  1. #1 Sordes
    June 20, 2008

    Given the fact that such things still happens today, it is hard to imagine how similar scenes must have happened in prehistoric times.
    Something interesting I noted is that it seems that male lions play often a key role in bringing down the giraffes.

  2. #2 Neil
    June 20, 2008

    I noticed the male too, unsusaul from my knowledge of lions anyway.

    The bit where there seems to be a lion clinging to each leg reminds me of kids doing that to adaults (except there not usually trying to kill the adault!)

  3. #3 Zach Armstrong
    June 20, 2008

    Actually, according to wikipedia, male lions will hunt when larger prey is involved (as is the case here with a large giraffe). Also, evidently strictly male hunting packs have been observed, too.

  4. #4 Rosel
    June 20, 2008

    Oddly the second giraffe death picture lead me to this blog.

  5. #5 Jerzy
    June 21, 2008

    Watching lions’ awkward attempts to kill giraffes or elephants, I always think – you need long canines and powerful arms of a sabertooth!

    Second interesting detail – you may not know, but many large predators worldwide like to walk on man-made roads. It saves energy to patrol territory this way without trashing into bushes. Be it lynx and wolves in Poland or tigers in India – tracks are on dirt roads. Even more curiously, animals apparently know habits of local humans and avoid to be seen.

  6. #6 R.A.W.
    June 22, 2008

    Even more curiously, animals apparently know habits of local humans and avoid to be seen.

    Anyone who deals with coyotes or cougars accepts this intuitively! They really do watch you far more than you watch them.

    One wonders what a sivathere hunt would have looked like.

  7. #7 Tommy Tyrberg
    June 24, 2008

    Re patrolling on roads, I’ve noticed the same phenomenon with Jackals and African Hunting Dogs in South Africa, but they didn’t particularly try to avoid humans.

  8. #8 Matt Bille
    June 28, 2008

    Do we need a theory about loss of traction to explain why giraffes are slower on roads? I wonder if it might simply be that it hurts every time a hoof on a long leg carrying great weight comes down on a hard surface, and a giraffe, even while being chased, can stand only so much of it.
    Just a thought.

  9. #9 Angela
    December 11, 2008

    Wolves on islands in SE Alaska exploit logging roads for hunting black-tailed deer as well. It makes sense–it is very difficult to travel in the old-growth forest there!

    That is sure a lot of effort to take down a giraffe. One would think it might not be worth it if the lions were ever injured, but I guess it pays off. Giraffes look very strange in this context. I’m glad I am little; if a lion or mountain lion ever catches me, hopefully it won’t take quite so long.

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