Lions are the kings of the jungle. These apex predators are feared and respected across the animal kingdom; however, despite their title, lions don’t actually live in the jungle.
Instead, lions make their home in the open grasslands and savannas of Africa.
Here, they hunt all types of prey – including herbivores like zebras, gazelle, and buffalo – and scavenge meat from carrion and other found prey.
Lions are apex predators and entirely carnivorous, meaning that they will eat pretty much any prey that they can catch and kill.
So where do deer fit into this, and will lions eat them? Don’t worry, because this article has all the answers you need!
This guide will take you through everything you need to know about where deer lie in a lion’s food chain, from whether lions eat deer to the ways lions hunt them.
So let’s jump right in!
Do Lions Actually Eat Deer?
Let’s start by getting this out of the way now – yes, lions will kill and eat deer.
Lions (as we’ve previously covered) are apex predators that will eat anything they can catch, and this includes deer.
A lion’s favored prey are ungulates, which is the scientific term for hooved, herbivorous mammals.
This includes deer along with gazelles, zebras, buffalo, and even larger animals like rhinos, elephants, and hippopotamus.
Deer are a preferred prey of lions as they are easier to hunt.
They aren’t as dangerous to take on as elephants, rhinos, and hippos – all of which are capable of killing a lion while defending themselves.
Deer are also easier to catch and take down compared to other ungulates, without the speed of the springbok or the sturdiness of wildebeest; this means that they are a safer option for a hungry lion.
Finally, deer are also targeted by other predators in the African savanna, such as cheetahs and hyenas.
This means that lions can scavenge food from deer that other predators have killed, either by finding the carcass or chasing the other predators away from their meal.
Up to 50% of a lion’s diet can come from scavenging, meaning that deer are a frequent source of food regardless of whether the lion can catch them.
Lions are opportunistic hunters who will eat any prey they can catch, so it makes sense that deer fit right into their diet.
As herbivorous ungulates without any real defenses, they make an easy target for a lion to take down and eat.
Do Lions And Deer Live Together?
You might be wondering whether lions and deer would even encounter each other in the first place.
After all, lions live primarily in the savannas of Africa while deer are most typically associated with lush grasslands and dense forests.
However, deer live all over the world – in fact, deer are one of the most widely-spread animals and can be found practically anywhere apart from Antarctica.
This includes on the plains of Africa, where they feed on the sparse vegetation to survive.
There is only one indigenous deer species in Africa – the Atlas or Barbary stag – but these mostly live in the mountainous areas of the continent’s northeast and are out of a lion’s range.
Instead, lions hunt other species of deer that have either migrated or were brought over to Africa.
The most commonly found species of deer in Africa are whitetail deer and mule deer, both of which are hunted and eaten by lions.
While lions will frequently hunt and kill deer, they are more likely to hunt the many antelope and gazelle species that live in the savanna.
These are far more prominent and are typically easier to catch than deer due to a slower speed.
These include antelopes and gazelles themselves, along with species such as the oryx, bontebok, and eland.
However, deer are still a main feature on a lion’s menu and a lion will happily kill and eat a deer if it gets the chance.
How Do Lions Hunt Deer?
Compared to other predatory big cats, lions have an interesting way of hunting that allows them to take down their prey.
Lions are pack hunters and ambush predators. This means that they hunt in groups, and use stealth to sneak up on and ambush their prey.
A hunt will typically involve a group of lions sneaking up and observing their prey from a distance, at which point one of the lions will chase the prey towards the ambush for the other lions to take down.
When hunting deer, lions will use a tactic known as sit-and-wait hunting. They will quietly stalk their prey, staying out of sight to avoid alerting the deer.
This lets them wait for the opportune moment to attack, and also gives them a chance to single out a weak, sick, or young deer as an easier target.
Once the chance presents itself, the lions will strike – deer can be faster than gazelle which makes them hard to chase down alone, so the lion will try to steer it towards the other lions lying in wait.
When the deer comes near, the lions will use their incredibly strong claws and teeth to drag the deer to the ground.
One of the more well-known facts about lions is that it is primarily the female lionesses that hunt.
While male lions are also able to hunt, the females do up to 90% of the hunting while the males stay behind and protect the rest of the pride.
Additionally, some lions will hunt alone.
This is typically due to either opportunity or necessity – for example, if a solitary lion can catch sick or weak prey or if a lion has been excluded from the rest of its pride.
However, this is typically less successful than a group effort and solitary lions will usually try to scavenge for food or steal food from other predators.
Lions are one of the most powerful and deadly big cats in the world.
While they might not be the king of the jungle that their nickname suggests, these skilled apex predators are definitely deserving of the title: “King of the Savanna”.
With their impressive hunting skills and a habitat that overlaps with deer, it’s only natural that lions will hunt and eat deer when possible.
So while it might be a bit surprising, yes – lions will eat deer!