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What Lions Eat in Captivity

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African lions (Panthera leo) are sizable and mighty cats that reside, for the most part, in Africa. If you wish to catch a glimpse of one of these majestic and somewhat rare creatures, however, you can often find them in captive settings, such as zoos or safari parks.


Lions are carnivores, which means that meat is is an essential and unavoidable part of their diets. Lions in captivity feed heavily on a variety of different types of meats, including beef, sheep, rabbit, chicken and horse -- including heads of horses.

Commercial Foods

Apart from actual animal flesh, lions in captivity also regularly feed on carnivore-minded commercial foods formulated specifically with their species in mind. These feline foods take into consideration all of a lion's key dietary requirements, including calcium and amino acids.


Bones are also a common element on the typical menus of captive lions. Not too often -- bones are usually considered to be treats for lions and so, for the most part, are only offered to the big cats several times a month or so -- lions are provided with single big and fresh bones. Generally, cow bones are the bones of choice -- typically knuckles, femurs or shanks.

Diet in the Wild

The captive diets of these animals are based on those of their freely roaming counterparts. Lions that inhabit the wild go on quests for food both alone and in big groups. Some common components of the wild lion diet are buffalo, hares, cattle, reptiles, birds, wild hogs, giraffes, amphibians, rodents, deer, wildebeests, impalas, bugs, zebra, young rhinoceroses, young elephants and crocodiles. Hoofed mammals are a major preference for the species. Lions also sometimes consume carrion.

In the lion world, the bulk of the hunting responsibilities are carried out by females. Male lions are usually bigger than female lions, and they usually do well on roughly 15 pounds of meat each day, while females thrive on 11 pounds or so. It's not uncommon for lions to snatch sustenance away from competitor animals -- think hyenas, for example.