Date of Completion
Honors Thesis - Campus Access
Heather Watts, Ph.D.
Predators play a vital role in ecosystem dynamics. Thus, it is important to study the diet and feeding habits of predators to understand interspecific interactions and to gain insight for wildlife conservation. The African lion (Panthera leo) is an important predator in many African ecosystems, but the continental population has been declining for decades. This necessitates understanding this species’ feeding ecology across populations and habitats. Overall, lions exhibit a catholic diet that varies across populations and can include a wide range of prey species. In this study, we utilize observational behavioral data collected on lions in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park from 2003 to 2005 to investigate feeding ecology in this population. To our knowledge, this is the first study of this lion population. All observed occurrences of lion feedings were recorded in the field by observers who searched the study area daily around dawn and dusk. For each instance of feeding, we determined, whenever possible, the prey species and whether the prey was hunted or scavenged by lions. We found that the most common prey item for Amboseli lions was wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus; 52.6% of kills), followed by zebra (Equus burchelli; 36.8%) and buffalo (Syncerus caffer; 10.5%). We used Jacob’s index of selectivity (D) to evaluate whether a prey species was preferred, avoided, or consumed in proportion to availability. Although wildebeest (D = 0.03) and buffalo (D = 0.25) were consumed in proportion to availability, Amboseli lions showed a preference for zebra (D = 0.38) and an avoidance for Thompson’s gazelle (Eudorcas thomsonii) (D = -1). For each observation of lions, the group size and composition (sexes and age classes) were determined, and each observation was categorized as either a feeding session or a non-feeding session, depending on whether food was present. We found that the number of lions present was significantly higher at sessions in which lions were feeding compared to those in which they were not feeding. This effect seemed to be driven by larger numbers of adult female lions and cubs at feeding sessions. These results will contribute to understanding lion feeding ecology across populations and developing conservation strategies.
Courtois, Mariele A., "Feeding ecology of the African lion (Panthera leo) in Amboseli National Park, Kenya and comparison to other populations" (2015). Honors Thesis. 79.