How animals hunt: Tricks of predators

Predators use many tricks to catch their dinner: sneaking, running, watching, and more. But guess what? Sometimes, it just doesn’t work out for them!

Check out how different predators hunt

Take the cheetah, for example. It’s super fast! When hunting, it sprints after its prey. But before that, it sneaks up quietly, using its stealth skills to get close.

Then there’s the leopard. It’s a master of stealth. It quietly creeps up on its target, getting as close as possible before pouncing with all its might. Sometimes, these predators just have to be patient. They’ll wait, hidden, until the prey gets within striking distance.

Lions are smart hunters. They’ll catch whatever comes their way, even if it’s just wandering by while they’re taking a nap. In some parts of Africa, lions have figured out how to hunt one type of animal really well. When they focus on just one kind of prey, they get better and better at catching it.

Bat-eared foxes have big ears that they keep close to the ground. They’re always listening for bugs moving below the surface, especially termites. When they hear those little critters, they dig like crazy to get to them. These foxes can even hear termites munching away up to 30 centimeters underground!

Jackals are clever hunters too. They use their eyes, ears, and noses to track down their next meal. They go after small animals like mice and birds. If you watch them hunting in the bushes or tall grass, you’ll see them stopping often to listen for any rustling or sniff out prey hiding underground.

When animals cry out in fear, it can attract predators like lions, hyenas, and jackals. Once they hear the distress calls, these predators spring into action. I once saw a lone hyena in the Okavango Delta taking on an old buffalo that couldn’t stand up.

The hyena stumbled upon the buffalo by chance and realized it was in trouble. It started biting the buffalo, moving away each time it struggled. With each bite, the buffalo let out a loud cry. Soon, eight more hyenas joined in, and they quickly killed the buffalo.

Let’s talk about how successful predators hunt

Wild dogs have a unique strategy. They pick a prey and chase it down tirelessly. With their endurance, they can keep up a chase for a long time, wearing out their target. This makes wild dogs the kings of hunting success.

Studies show that wild dogs succeed in about 90% of their hunts. This success rate is calculated by comparing the number of kills to the number of chases. When there are fewer dogs in a pack, the success rate might drop slightly because there are fewer animals to keep up the chase.

Cheetahs might be super fast, but they can’t keep it up for long. They usually hunt alone or with just one other cheetah, and they go after small antelopes. Because they tire out quickly, they can only chase their prey for short distances. After catching something, they’re often too worn out to defend their meal, and other predators like jackals can easily snatch it away.

Leopards have their own sneaky style of hunting. They use stealth and patience to get close to their prey without being noticed. Sometimes they’ll make a sudden dash, or they’ll just wait until the prey is close enough. When they catch something, their strength comes in handy. They can drag their meal up into a tree where other hungry animals, like lions and hyenas, can’t steal it. Leopards are so strong, they can hoist a carcass that weighs more than they do up into the branches.

Lions: Mighty and always ready

Lions are incredibly strong hunters, and they usually live in groups called prides. This teamwork makes it easier for them to take down big prey. But even with all their power, lions aren’t the best at catching their meals. In fact, they often scavenge for food more than they hunt it down.

Researchers studying lions all across Africa have found that they don’t have a high success rate when it comes to hunting. In some places, they catch less than twenty percent of the time. Lions are so strong that they’ll even steal food from other predators and eat carrion that’s been lying around for days.

Once, I saw a group of lions resting as the sun went down. Suddenly, one lion jumped up and sprinted across the open plain toward the trees. The rest of the pride followed in a rush. I wondered what had made them move so quickly. Maybe they smelled something in the air, or heard a noise I couldn’t pick up on?

Another time, I watched lions lounging in the shade, seemingly uninterested in the animals passing nearby. But then, out of nowhere, they’d burst into action, chasing after one specific creature. What was it about that one animal that caught their attention? Could they sense a weakness, or was it just a spontaneous decision?

The sneaky hunter: Waiting for the right moment

Every predator has its own style of hunting. Some rely on being sneaky, while others bank on their speed, strength, or agility. But no matter the strategy, patience is always key. When the land is wide open and there’s no cover for sneaking up on prey, predators have to bide their time and wait for the right moment to strike.

How long a predator waits depends on how quickly the prey moves closer. Most predators are pretty good at playing this waiting game, although some get antsy quicker than others.

Jackals don’t stick around for too long if they miss their chance. But I’ve seen lions and leopards in different parts of Botswana patiently waiting for over an hour, hoping for a slow-moving meal. Sometimes, the prey is grazing or moving slowly, which means the predator has to wait until it’s close enough to strike.

Waiting might seem like the best strategy for hunting, but I’ve seen it go wrong many times. Sometimes, predators lose patience or misjudge how far away the prey is, messing up their attack.

Young animals, especially lions, can also struggle to control their excitement. They’re still learning, and they might get too eager and ruin the hunt by charging too soon.

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