Africa is home to five large carnivores with big appetites: cheetah, lion, leopard, spotted hyaena and leopard. Hayley Clements spent 2 years tracking cheetah to find out what they like to eat. This information, combined with additional kill data from all over Africa for cheetah as well as the four other large carnivores, allowed the estimation of the sizes of prey that each of these predators liked to eat. 


In: Clements HS, Tambling CJ, Hayward MW, Kerley GIH (2014)

An Objective Approach to Determining the Weight Ranges of Prey Preferred by and Accessible to the Five Large African Carnivores.

PLoS ONE 9(7): e101054. 

Online Paper



Game reserves are increasingly important for the conservation of large carnivores, as these large carnivores require large areas and abundant food, and that outside these reserves they are heavily persecuted. Game reserves in South Africa which conserve large carnivores are legally required to have adequate fencing to prevent escapes. These fences do well in protecting large carnivores, but they also prevent carnivores from moving away from the game reserve resulting in high carnivore densities in these reserves. These high densities of carnivores can cause declines in their prey populations. It is therefore important that game reserve managers know which prey species are vulnerable to predation by these large carnivores.  Monitoring the numbers of these often eaten prey species can provide an early indication that the predator population numbers might be getting to high. We used kill information from throughout Africa to determine what the five large African carnivores eat.


What we found

Each carnivore generally kills prey within a specific size range, and within that there is a narrower size range that they prefer.

  • Cheetah kill prey in the 14 - 135 kg size range and prefer prey weighing 14 - 40 kg.
  • Leopard kill prey in the 1 - 45 kg size range and prefer prey weighing 15 - 45 kg.
  • Lion kill prey in the 32 - 632 kg size range and prefer prey weighing 92 - 632 kg.
  • Spotted hyaena kill prey in the 15 - 1600 kg size range and prefer prey weighing 91 -139 kg.
  • Wild dog kill prey in the 10 - 289 kg size range and prefer prey weighing 10 - 31 kg.

Management advice

  • Using the numbers and size of the prey species on a game reserve, this information can be incorporated to predict which prey species a carnivore is likely to eat.
  • It is recommended that these species be monitored for population declines, which could indicate the need for carnivore population management (e.g. contraception or relocation).
  • While these guidelines provide an approximation of which prey species are likely to be killed by the predators, it is also recommended that the kills of the carnivores be monitored. Combined, this information will provide information on what the carnivores are eating, and this this can differ between reserves depending on the vegetation type and prey species assemblage and population size.