Do cheetahs compete with lions for the same prey?

A quick Google search says the answer is no:

Lions hunt big animals such as buffalo, giraffe, wildebeest, and zebra. What prey do cheetahs hunt? Cheetahs hunt small animals such as gazelles, hares, and impalas.

Such videos I have seen of the two species hunting, appear to confirm the above.

But I've also heard and seen multiple accounts of lions killing cheetah cubs. Why would they do that, if there is no competition? If another predator eats different herbivore species than you do, their existence is good for you, not bad; by reducing the number of their prey species, they reduce the herbivore competition, thereby increasing the number of your prey species.

A bit more searching found this paper: https://journals.co.za/doi/pdf/10.10520/EJC117300

Based on actual diet, lions exhibited the least amount of overlap with wild dogs (31.6%), leopards (39.1%) and cheetahs (42.5%; Table 2)... Lions exhibited the least amount of overlap of preferred prey with wild dogs (41.0%), cheetahs (43.7%) and leopards (48.3%).

'Least amount' notwithstanding, that claims more than 40% overlap, in other words a very high degree of competition between lions and cheetahs, in direct contradiction to the story I had previously understood.

Which of these claims is true? And if the two species do compete, how does that work? Which prey species do they both eat?


2 Answers 2


Yes, cheetahs do compete with lions. Cheetahs can share the same habitat with lions; however, they actively avoid lions (and also hyenas and leopards). They are smaller carnivores/predators than their competitors and they are non-confrontational in nature. They would avoid unnecessary injuries at all costs because they rely on speed to hunt and survive. An injury that can slow them down is potentially life threatening.

Cheetahs have been reported to suffer from intraguild competition by lions Panthera leo, spotted hyenas Crocuta crocuta and occasionally leopards Panthera pardus. These larger predators represent a threat to the smaller-bodied cheetahs as they can affect their food intake by limiting access to high resource areas or kleptoparasitism (e.g. 10–12% of kills are kleptoparasitized in Serengeti National Park (SNP)), and reduce population sizes via increased cub mortality (e.g. 73% of cub mortality was due to predation in the SNP). In response, cheetahs often demonstrate avoidance behavior to minimize interactions with dominant carnivores , with spatial and temporal partitioning regarded as the principal behavioral mechanisms by which this is achieved. Accordingly, cheetahs have been described as a refugial species that seeks competition refuges within the landscape with low densities of lions and spotted hyenas.

Rostro-García S, Kamler JF, Hunter LT. To kill, stay or flee: the effects of lions and landscape factors on habitat and kill site selection of cheetahs in South Africa. PLoS One. 2015;10(2):e0117743. Published 2015 Feb 18. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0117743

(removed the citations)

The definition of the terms used in the above citation:

  • Intraguild predation, or IGP, is the killing and sometimes eating of a potential competitor of a different species. This interaction represents a combination of predation and competition, because both species rely on the same prey resources and also benefit from preying upon one another. - Wikipedia
  • Kleptoparasitism, literally meaning parasitism by theft, is a form of resource acquisition where one animal takes resources from another. Although kleptoparasitism of food (i.e., kleptoparasitic foraging) is the best known example, the stolen resources may be food or another resource such as nesting materials. - Sciencedirect.com

One of the prey species that cheetahs and lions both eat is Thomson's gazelle (Eudorcas thomsonii). Thomson's gazelle is the primary prey of cheetahs. Probably, the most amount of overlap in their diet comes from eating this prey. However, lions would hunt them less or just steal them from cheetahs.

The prey species included buffalo (Syncerus caffer), wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus), and Thomson's gazelle (Eudorcas thomsonii) as the three main prey species of Serengeti lions, hyenas, and cheetahs, respectively (Schaller, 1972; Sinclair & Norton‐Griffiths, 1979).

Swanson A, Arnold T, Kosmala M, Forester J, Packer C. In the absence of a "landscape of fear": How lions, hyenas, and cheetahs coexist. Ecol Evol. 2016;6(23):8534-8545. Published 2016 Nov 6. doi:10.1002/ece3.2569

The same paper (cited above) talks about the coexistence of lions, hyenas and cheetahs in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania and provides analysis on the avoidance behavior among the predators. It has the conclusion that despite cheetahs avoid lions, they are not displaced from their habitats and they don't lose access to their prey. In contrast, African wild dogs are displaced from their habitats by lions.

  • $\begingroup$ Competition describes where two species have negative effects on each others fitness. But what is sounds like is described here is amensalism, where one species has a negative effect and one has no effect on the other. If cheetahs don't have a negative fitness effect on lions, then the ecological and evolutionary consequences are different for this case amensalism compared with competition. $\endgroup$ Nov 21, 2022 at 3:40

Although the bulk of the explanation is done in the other answer, my answer will focus on the observations in Serengeti national park and the studies made.

Lions in fact kills cheetah cubs. In the 1990s, a researcher documented lions attacking and killing up to 57% of cheetah cubs (kleptoparasitism) in Serengeti National Park but they rarely ate the cubs completely; the cheetah mothers often consumed the remains of their offspring after the lions had left. However, the increasing lion population has not triggered a drop in cheetah numbers. They have remained stable, despite losing many of their cubs. They are apparently able to compensate for the loss of their cubs because females become fertile within 2 weeks of losing their offspring.

Cheetahs also adopted different strategies to deal with threats from lions. Cheetah females were found to set up their dens precisely where there are the most lions. Researchers says it is counterintuitive but their study offers a plausible mechanism for this and they called it "fine scale behavioral avoidance of the lions, a sort of carnivorous ballet". Male cheetahs and single females eat their prey as quickly as possible. Mothers with cubs, on the other hand, watch out for possible threats while their young are eating in order to give them enough time to eat their fill. Cheetahs do not have the strength to haul their kills up trees to keep them safe from scavengers as a leopard does, nor can they physically defend themselves against a lion. They therefore tend to hunt when larger predators are away or less active and eat their prey as quickly as possible before it can be snatched away from them.


  1. https://www.science.org/content/article/carnivorous-ballet-helps-cheetahs-coexist-lions
  2. https://www.springer.com/gp/about-springer/media/research-news/all-english-research-news/how-cheetahs-outsmart-lions-and-hyenas/15602738

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