There are two ways in which this question could be answered. One is very simple and short and one is a slightly more detailed analysis of their behaviour, social interaction and position within a pride. Both will lead to the same answer but it is important and interesting to understand why the answer is what it is.
Male lions are known to many as the King of the Beasts, the top of the food chain and the most dominant force in the African bush. They are only out competed by other male lions who wish to overthrow their territories and continue their own genetic line. Male lions are viewed as this majestic, regal creature that is a protector, a father, warrior and a solider. The one that will put his life on the line for his pride, for his females and for his young. Male lions will sacrifice anything for the greater good of his land and the lions upon that land.
Having such an important role as the leader and the defender, male lions put their bodies on the line to defend everything that is theirs. For this reason they have, over time, developed beautiful manes that serve to protect the most vital parts of their body, around the neck and head. This is an ingenious way in which nature works. However, this comes at a cost. With such a large, conspicuous mass of hair, that is often shaded from light to dark brown and to black, the most important part of hunting is immediately thrown away. Camouflage. This is where the topic comes to light.
It is understood to many that due to the role a male lion plays within a pride, the role of being the protector, he is omitted from the hunting duties as this is left to the lionesses – beautiful tawny coloured cats that blend in perfectly with their surroundings. This is true is many instances. The lionesses serve to provide for the pride and the males that are dominant over that pride. This is certainly the truth. Lionesses will hunt and kill prey to provide for their pride. There is even a pecking order within the pride when the males are present. The males feed first, often allowing the cubs to join or feed after the males have had their share and then the females are often left to fight over the remains, leaving them hungry. Because of this, they will often attempt to hunt again. A valid argument and certainly something that we witness and understand to be true each day out in the bush. In general terms, the lionesses provide for the pride and the males protect the pride.
However, it is not as simple as this. Firstly, when young male lions are forced to leave the safety net of their mothers pride and become nomadic, be it in small coalitions, (groups of males often born in the same pride) or lone nomadic young males, they are forced to fend for themselves. This occurs through them scavenging prey from unsuspecting, less powerful predators like cheetah and leopards, but it will also entail them hunting for themselves. This they will most definitely do and they will learn the skills of patience and experience of hunting for themselves. At this time however, their manes are not fully developed and therefore their camouflage is not as affected. Secondly, male lions that are within the pride set up will be needed in the hunt when they are required to take down prey that is too large for the females to hunt on their own, such as Cape buffalo, giraffe and even elephants in certain parts of Africa. Their strength is needed in this time and they are certainly an asset in this regard. So in this instance they will definitely hunt, however, in these circumstances they will seldom rely on their camouflage and will often merely present themselves to a herd of buffalo for instance, and then a game of chess ensues. With repeated charges from both parties until one makes a mistake, often the buffalo, which will send the male in to pull down the prey. Thirdly, and possibly the most important fact, is that male lions are not always with their prides. They have a duty of protecting territories and this means time away from their providers. In this time away, the males need their strength to dominate the land, to fight and stand up for their proclaimed territory as well as moving vast distances patrolling their land. It is in these times that the real hunting can be seen. Coalitions of male lions together, like the Majingilane males on Londolozi, a powerhouse of four fully grown males, can take on Cape buffalo with great success.
We have witnessed a few sightings in the past few months that confirm our research and cement the ideas set out here. Male lions actively being involved in hunting, that even saw a pride take on a herd of 600 buffalo. A young male from the Sparta pride took the first plunge into the sea of chaotic buffalo stampeding around our vehicles. The coalition male entered as the brut force, after which a buffalo fell to its death. Other encounters have seen all four Majingilane males hunt and kill a huge buffalo bull in the Sand River in front of Tree Camp.
So this detailed view into the hunting ability of a male lions quite easily concludes in one simple fact: ‘Do male Lions hunt?’ The answer is yes. They are amazing hunters in their own right. They are stealthy, agile, quick and clever. They are strong and determined and as they age they carry experience with them.
So the next time you are sitting on a vehicle in the middle of the bush, think carefully about the lifestyles of these magnificent animals. Ponder over their particular roles and the dynamic that is “pride living.” But be ever mindful that it is always a game of survival out here, where the strongest prevail. The ones that can provide for themselves and therefore stay alive are the ones that are successfully living a life that is destined for them.
Written by: Mike Sutherland