Lions Feast on Their Kill in Ngorongoro

As we sat by the roaring fire at The Manor at Ngorongoro, everyone was excitedly chattering about the day’s various game drives they’d been on. We’d just arrived to Ngorongoro and had an eventful day in Tarangire with our first lion sighting and a herd of elephants that entertained us as they played in a watering hole before our flight to Lake Manyara. My ears perked up as I first heard the couple across from me mention how awful the weather must be at home in Pennsylvania. Small world! That was the conversation icebreaker and before long they were regaling us with how they’d seen a pride take down a Cape Buffalo and the lions feast on their kill that morning. I couldn’t wait for our Ngorongoro game drive the next day.

Male lions at Ngorongoro CraterIt didn’t take long after we’d descended into the Ngorongoro Crater before we spotted our first lions – three males just sitting in the grass. Two of the lions were just watching. Waiting. As the third lifted his head and then decided we weren’t very interesting, we realized there wasn’t going to be much excitement from this pride. Despite our very early start, it was already nearing 9am and chances we’d be witnessing a kill were slim.

Lions tend to hunt at night or very early in the morning. Much of the rest of the day, usually around 20 – 22 hours, lions do exactly what we’d just observed – sleep. Sounds like an easy life, right? After all, lions are the king of the beasts.

Wrong. Lions actually have quite a hard life, despite their reign over the African savannah and placement at the top of the food chain. Lions aren’t fast animals, especially in comparison to their common prey like wildebeest that can reach top speeds around 80 kilometers per hour and effortlessly maintain their speed over long distances. Lions have terrible stamina.

A pride of lions feast on their kill

A pride of lions feast on a Cape Buffalo

Up ahead we see a commotion and what seems like all of the vehicles in Ngorongoro Crater gathering. Earlier a pride of lions had taken down a Cape Buffalo and while we didn’t see that (the guides estimated the kill had probably occurred between 5am – 6am), we did witness the lions feast on their kill. It might sound gruesome to watch them eat, but we were fascinated.

Usually it is the female lions that are responsible for hunting, but this pride was made of up four males and just one female. A group hunt typically only has a 30% success rate and of the majority of hunts that scientists have observed, the most successful ones occur at night with dense cover. So here on the wide open plains of Ngorongoro Crater, this kill was something special to witness in the circle of life.

Lions expend all of their energy in the hunt and when plenty of food is available, like with this Cape Buffalo, they will gorge themselves into near immobility. There is a hierarchy in who eats first, with the pride leader (usually the largest male) eating first. He’d already had his share and the others were feasting when we’d arrived. Hyenas and jackals sat waiting nearby, just hoping for any morsel.

Jackal and lions in Ngorongoro Crater

This fearless jackal nabs a bite

Those jackals were practically fearless and no matter how many times the lioness warned them off, they were persistent in trying to get a piece. One little jackal finally succeeded, only to have the chunk of meat literally ripped away from him by a hyena.

Lions feast on a kill in Ngorongoro

Trying to get to the good bits – the heart, liver, and kidneys

A lion in Ngorongoro

Too tired to bathe himself

Lions in Ngorongoro

We got pretty close to these lions

We continued to watch for a while as the lions took turns eating and ripping open the body to eat the heart, liver and kidneys. The pride leader rested in the shade of our line of safari vehicles, blood still dripping from his mane. We were in no danger – he’d just eaten himself into a sleep and still had plenty for later.

Lion in Ngorongoro Lion in NgorongoroWe reluctantly left the lions as the pride leader slowly wandered down to a puddle for a drink. The day was really just getting started and we already had tales we’d be telling to the newcomers at The Manor that evening. What would the rest of the day hold?

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Disclosure: Our trip to Tanzania was hosted by SkySafari by Elewana in order for us to bring you this story. As always, all opinions are entirely our own. For more travel inspiration, check out Friday Postcards by Walking On Travels.

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Lions Feast on Their Kill in Ngorongoro


    • says

      It was really incredible to see. I’m still amazed at how the lions would stand there just panting for breath between eating. You could see the sheer exhaustion from the hunt and how it just used up every ounce of their energy.

  1. says

    This has been on my bucket list for years. You are luck to have watched them eat. Loved your write up and photos! P.S. My ears perk up when I hear someone say Pennsylvania while traveling too :)

      • says

        That is crazy. I would camp up on the peninsula every summer and cool off at Waldameer. My whole family still lives in PA, so I go back at least once a year. I grew up Potter County, which is roughly 2 hours drive from Erie and is where we would do our school shopping!

  2. says

    You were very lucky to see a lion kill. I know a lot of people go on safari hope to catch one, and yours is amazing. We only saw the remnants of a pride eating leftovers. Like, gnawing on a leg :) Ewww. Sounds so morbid when I write it, but hey, that’s the way of the world right?

    • says

      It sure is Deb. An elephant had been injured by a poacher and then died near one of our camps a few days before we arrived. It was totally morbid to see – and smell – the carcass. And it was like the whole savannah came for an easy meal. Every time we passed by there was something different gnawing away on whatever was left. But that is the way of the animal kingdom. Definitely not something many can say they’ve seen!

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