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Males lions excel as ambush hunters

March 18, 2013 at 6:03 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, March 18 (UPI) -- Male lions, long thought to be dependent on females to do hunting for the pride, are in fact very successful hunters in their own right, U.S. researchers say.

Female lions rely on cooperative strategies to hunt their prey, scientists at the Carnegie Institute of Science in Washington, D.C., said, but males are less likely to cooperate, raising questions as to how the males manage to hunt successfully.

The answer, say Carnegie researchers Scott Loarie and Greg Asner, is that male lions in Africa use dense savanna vegetation for successful ambush-style solo hunting.

Loarie and Asner, along with Craig Tambling from the University of Pretoria, studied a pride of seven lions in South Africa's Kruger National Park to quantify the lines of sight, or "viewsheds," where lions did their killing, a Carnegie release reported Monday.

At night, female lions hunted cooperatively under the cover of darkness in areas with open vegetation, while male lions preferred hunting in more dense vegetation, areas where prey is highly vulnerable.

This ambushing of prey from behind vegetation is linked to hunting success among male lions despite lacking the cooperative strategies employed by female lions in open grassy savannas, the researchers said.

The study results could have major implications for wildlife park management, which is often heavily involved with manipulating vegetation, the researchers said.

"By strongly linking male lion hunting behavior to dense vegetation, this study suggests that changes to vegetation structure, such as through fire management, could greatly alter the balance of predators and prey," Loarie said.

Asner agreed.

"With large mammals increasingly confined to protected areas, understanding how to maintain their habitat to best support their natural behavior is a critical conservation priority," he said.

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