Frequently Asked Questions

Answers to these questions are provided by Dr. Craig Packer or his graduate students at the University of Minnesota.

How many teeth does a lion have?

Lions have 30 teeth.

How much can an adult lion eat in one feeding?

Female lions captures most of the mid-sized prey (wildebeest, zebra, etc.) but the males typically catch the really large prey (buffalo and giraffe). A male can eat 43 kg in a day; a female may eat over 25 kg. But their average intake is about 8–9 kg per day.

Does your research harm the lions?

We are very careful that none of our work is in any way harmful to the lions. We mostly observe the lions from a distance of 10–100 meters, but we do occasionally immoblize individuals to remove snares, attach radio collars or collect blood samples. Lions with radio collars do not suffer any effect on their survival or reproduction, and by radio tracking we are far more efficient in monitoring the population in times of drought or disease outbreaks. Blood samples from these lions have revealed the extent to which they are exposed to infectious diseases (such as canine distemper) that originated from domestic dogs in the surrounding villages. These findings have led to improved veterinary services around the Serengeti.

How many cubs does a female lion typically have and when are they weaned?

Females typically have litters of two or three cubs. Cubs are usually weaned by the age of eight months.

Why do male lions have manes?

The mane has often been viewed as a shield that protects a male’s neck during fights against other males, but lions mostly attack each other on the back and hips. Instead, the size and coloration of the mane serves as a signal to other lions about the male’s fitness, similar to the showiness of the peacock’s tail. By conducting experiments with life-size “dummy” lions, the Serengeti lion project determined that females prefer males with darker manes. Darker manes also take a physical toll by raising body temperatures, meaning that only the “fittest” males can grow the most attractive manes. The length and darkness of the manes also signal information to other males about a lion’s fighting ability. Watch videos and learn more about manes.

Do lions purr like house cats?

Purring is not common or important in the lions’ social life. Also, lions only make a sound as they exhale rather than the continuous purring of house cats.

Who would win in a fight between a tiger and a lion?

Lions and tigers co-existed in many parts of India until the end of the 19th century, but today Asiatic lions are restricted to the Gir Forest in Gujarat State of western India—an ecosystem without tigers. A controversial proposal to translocate Gir lions to Kuno Palpur in Madhya Pradesh has been delayed, partly because of fears that tigers living in Kuno would kill the incoming lions.

Only a few 19th century reports are available of wild lions fighting with wild tigers, and it is unclear if one species regularly defeated the other. Many fights were staged between captive lions and tigers during the first decades of the 20th century, and some of these are posted on YouTube. However, the outcomes are difficult to interpret because so little information is available about the contestants (e.g., sex, age and prior experience). Several clips show fights pitting a subadult or female tiger against a full-grown male lion; others show subadult male lions against adult tigers.

The following should be considered in imagining what might happen in the wild:

  1. Tigers have a general height/weight advantage, although size varies across tiger subspecies.
  2. Coalitions of male lions usually fight as a group against territorial rivals, so a tiger may have an advantage in a one-on-one encounter, since this is the typical mode of combat for a tiger. However, a lion coalition of 2–3 males would have a clear advantage over a lone tiger. A group of 2–4 female lions would have a similar advantage over a lone tigress.
  3. Lion coalition partners fight each other over access to individual estrous females, and while these fights are not as intense as between opposing coalitions, the additional fighting experience might provide a male lion with an advantage against a male tiger in a one-on-one encounter.
  4. While the lion’s mane does not have a significant protective function in fights with other lions, the tiger’s fighting style evolved in the absence of a mane, perhaps conferring an advantage to a lone lion male.

In sum, lions would seem likely to survive translocation to tiger habitat, providing they are moved as intact groups. Perhaps it will be possible to some day study one-on-one encounters in detail if the two species are allowed to co-exist once more in the wild.