Do Lions Eat Hyenas? Not Really (Here’s What They Eat!)

Photo: AMeslier / Shutterstock

If Disney’s Lion King taught us something, it’s that lions and hyenas are not the best of friends. These two apex predators are often depicted in literature as enemies. And, in fact, they are.

Lions and hyenas share the same habitat and often compete for resources. Both species are known for killing the young of others, but do they also eat them?

Lions generally don’t eat hyenas, even though adult lions kill hyenas whenever given the opportunity. More often, lions kill hyena cubs as well as weak hyenas, such as old or ill ones. Similarly, hyenas kill lion cubs and weak adults. However, hyenas usually also feed on the prey or eat lion carcasses and carrion. 

Do Lions Kill And Eat Hyenas?

Hyenas and lions are both apex predators living in the same habitat. Because they are both carnivores, they often have competing interests and are known as “mortal enemies.”

However, competition for resources often leads to infanticide – aka, killing each other’s young – rather than adults killing one another. That’s because hyenas are actually stronger than lions, even if they are smaller.

To put things into perspective, lions and hyenas have a bite force quotient (BFQ) of 112 and 113, respectively. However, hyenas are much smaller than lions. The former generally weigh around 190 pounds, whereas lions often weigh over 500 pounds.

This translates to an actual bite force of 650 PSI for lions and around 1,100 PSI for hyenas – which is closer to the bite force of tigers and jaguars.

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Sure, lions have other advantages, despite the weaker bite. They are stronger physically, thanks to their large bodies, have a more powerful strike, and are also faster. In a clash between a lion and a hyena, the former will almost always win the fight.

However, hyenas – like lions – live in groups and are much more aggressive than lions. That’s why true fights between adult lions and hyenas are rare.

Healthy adults of both species are known to go after and kill the cubs and weak adults of the other species.

That said, evidence suggests that lions don’t eat hyenas after killing them. The only exceptions are starved lions that would eat any available prey in periods of scarce food availability, and a weak lion that would eat a killed hyena to preserve energy.

Why Don’t Lions Eat Hyenas?

There are no specific studies on why lions avoid eating hyenas after killing them, but the most plausible reason is that they don’t like how hyenas taste.

Because lions and hyenas are both apex predators sharing a habitat, they often compete for food and other resources. Thus, most lions likely kill hyenas only to reduce their numbers and gain more access to resources for their pride.

Male lions might also kill hyenas to defend their territory, including their females. That’s because hyenas usually target smaller animals, including lionesses, when they are alone.

Considering that hyenas – pretty much like lions – hunt in clans, they can easily take down a lone lioness. However, a male lion can easily fight off a clan of hyenas.

Food preferences may also explain why lions don’t eat hyenas.

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Hyenas are not picky carnivores. They feed on whatever’s available, including carcasses and carrion of other carnivores.

However, lions are big cats, and like most felines, they are picky eaters. They mostly eat ungulates and other herbivores when food is scarce, but carnivore meat doesn’t usually make it to the menu.

What Animals Do Lions Eat?

Research on wild lions’ diet shows a clear preference for certain food types.

While it is not surprising that lions are picky eaters, not many people know that their diet follows seasonal preferences – which likely vary based on prey availability and migration patterns.

In all seasons, male and female lions alike prefer buffalos. These ungulates constitute about 56% of prey for male lions and about 33% for lionesses.

The most common secondary prey in the early dry season is kudus and giraffes. In the late dry season, the dietary preference shifts to zebras and suids, such as warthogs.

Opportunistic hunting behavior is also common in lions, but the preference is still focused on herbivores (including elephants) and small mammals (such as mice).

Researchers didn’t find any traces of carnivore meat in the lions’ diet, so it’s safe to assume that lions don’t only avoid eating hyenas, but they don’t feed on other carnivores at all.

Do Lions Eat Any Carnivores?

Generally, lions don’t eat carnivores. However, they could feed on carnivores, including hyenas, in special situations. The most common one is famine; in periods of scarce food availability, lions will likely eat anything that’s available.

Weak lions that manage to fight off and kill a hyena also will likely eat it. Feeding on their kill saves energy, which can make the difference between life and death for injured or older lions.

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Do Hyenas Eat Lions?

Photo: WireStock Creators / Shutterstock

Unlike lions, hyenas are not picky eaters, and they feed on lions. However, this doesn’t mean that they have to kill the lion first – at least, not necessarily.

Hyenas are not only carnivores; they are scavengers known to steal prey from other animals after it has been killed. They also eat carrion left behind by other predators or carcasses of dead animals.

A clan – or even a lone hyena – passing by a lion’s carcass or carrion will likely feed on it. In the case of a clan, they’ll likely consume everything the dead body has to offer, including bones and fur. These predators also eat lion cubs after killing them.

Obviously, hyenas don’t target and eat lions specifically, unless it’s lion cubs.

According to research, hyenas will eat anything that’s meat and organic, including carcasses that have gone into putrefaction. Due to their resilient nature, hyenas often eat foods that other apex predators find disgusting.


Lions don’t usually eat hyenas, but they often kill hyena cubs and even weaker adults. The main reason lions don’t eat hyenas is that they don’t necessarily like the taste. As big cats, lions can be picky about their diets and mostly eat ungulates or other herbivores.

Hyenas also target lions, especially lion cubs, lone females, and weak individuals. These predators are known to feed on lions, including lions they’ve killed themselves or carcasses they happen to stumble upon.

Learn More About Lions:

  1. Why Do Lions Lick Their Prey?
  2. How Strong Are Lions?
  3. Can Lions Climb Trees?
  4. Do Lions Hibernate or Migrate?
  5. Why Are Lions King Of The Jungle?

James Ball

James has had a lifelong passion for animals and nature, tracing back to his childhood where he first began fostering intimate knowledge and connection with pet frogs and snakes. He has since honed this interest into a career as a trained Wildlife Biologist, specializing in Biogeography, sustainability and conservation. In addition to his professional pursuits, James maintains an active lifestyle, regularly indulging in outdoor activities such as hiking, and musical pursuits like playing piano and swimming.

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