Predator Hunting Techniques
Botswana Wildlife Guide

Stealth, stamina, power, patience, speed, sound, smell and sight - these are all techniques used by predators when hunting. BUT - it doesn't always work!

By Leigh Kemp

Insight into the hunting techniques

For example a Cheetah, the fastest land mammal, will rely on a burst of speed to catch its prey but the initial part of the hunt will involve the stealth of a stalk to get within range of its chosen prey.

The Leopard will use stealth as it tries to get in as close as possible to the prey before using power to overcome the prey. Both these predators will use patience at times if the prey is moving in their direction. They will lie low waiting for the prey to get as close as possible.

Lions are the most opportunistic hunters, killing whatever crosses their path or walks into them while they are sleeping. In many areas of Africa lions have adapted to hunting a particular prey species. In these areas the success rate is higher than areas where they hunt a range of prey species. This is due to the fact that they get better with practice at one species.

Bat-eared foxes move around with their large ears close to the ground listening for the movement of insects underground, particularly Termites, and when they hear the prey they will dig furiously to get to it. The Foxes are known to hear Termites up to 30 cm underground.

Jackals will use sight, sound and scent when hunting. They hunt rodents, birds and other small mammals. Observing Jackals hunting in scrub or long grass they will stop regularly to listen for sounds in the undergrowth or scent holes in the ground to locate prey.

The distress calls of animals carry to predators, in particular Lions, Hyenas and Jackal that will then react to the sound. I have observed a single Hyena in the Okavango Delta tackling an old Buffalo bull that was unable to stand up.

The Hyena happened on the old bull by chance and sensing that the Buffalo was in trouble the Hyena began to bite at various parts of the body, moving away each time the bull struggled. After a while the Buffalo began to bellow at each bite. Within minutes eight more Hyenas were on the scene and the Buffalo was killed quickly.

Predator hunting success rates

Wild dogs hunt by selecting a prey and chasing it down. Using stamina they can keep up a chase for long distances and wear down their prey. Due to their hunting technique Wild Dogs rank at the top of the chain when it comes to success rate.

In some studies done the success rate of the Wild Dog is 90%. This is calculated on the kills per chase ratio. This ratio drops a little with smaller packs due to the fact that there are less individuals to maintain a chase.

Although Cheetahs have speed they do not have stamina and generally hunt alone or in pairs meaning that, not only is their prey small Antelope, but that they can only keep up the chase for short distances. They are normally exhausted after a kill and unable to fight back when other predators steal the carcass from them. Jackals have been known to take kills from Cheetah.

Leopard use a combination of stealth and patience when hunting, moving in as close as possible to the prey before attempting a charge or lying in wait for the prey to come within range.

The power of the Leopard enables it to pull the carcass into a tree away from other predators such as Lions and Hyenas that have been known to steal their kills. A Leopard can lift more than its own body weight into the branches.

Lions: Power and opportunism

Lions are the most powerful predator and they live in prides, making it easier to kill larger prey. Despite this Lions are of the least successful predators and in many areas they scavenge more than they kill.

In studies across Africa Lions rank low on the success scale and in some areas they are at less than twenty percent success rate. They are powerful enough to steal the kills of all other predators and will take carrion that is days old.

I have watched a pride of Lions resting in the evening light when suddenly one got up and started running across the plain into the trees in the distance. The rest of the pride followed. I was not sure what had galvanized them into action so quickly. Was it a scent on the breeze or a sound I could not hear?

I have also observed Lions lying in the shade watching animals pass a short distance from them, ignoring all, until suddenly they will explode into a chase after one particular individual. What is it about the individual they decide on? Do they sense something, a weakness, or is it merely a spur of the moment decision?

The waiting game - ambush

Each particular predator has its own unique ways of hunting - stealth, speed, strength and agility are some of the key proponents of predators' hunting techniques. All predators will need patience at some time when hunting. When the terrain is not suitable for a stalk - open areas - the predator will wait for prey to get closer before attacking.

The time a predator has to wait depends on the time it takes for the prey to move within range. Most predators are known to play the waiting game, although some are not as patient as others.

Jackals do not wait for long before moving on to seek other targets. I have observed Lions and Leopards in various parts of Botswana lying in wait for more than an hour waiting for slow moving prey. The selected prey may be feeding, moving very slowly from place to place, forcing the predator to wait until within range.

Patience may seem to be the ultimate hunting method, but I have personally observed many failed hunting attempts due to a predator's patience running out or mistiming the range of the prey, hereby mistiming the charge.

Immature animals, mainly seen in Lions, can also let their excitement get the better of them. The young ones, who are usually been taught at the time, will become over eager and spoil the hunt by charging too soon.

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