Optimal hunting group size: the need for lions to defend their kills against loss to spotted hyaenas



This paper presents preliminary evidence that kleptoparasitism by spotted hyaenas may influence optimal hunting group size of lions. In the absence of adult male lions, hyaenas can drive female and subadult lions off their kills provided they outnumber the lions by a factor of four. Hence the larger the group of lions on the kill, the greater their chance of defending their food against invading hyaenas. At Savuti, where there was a shortage of adult male lions, the groups of female and subadult lions lost almost 20% of their food to hyaenas. Losses were most frequent for those living in small groups. These lions were often satiated by the time the hyaenas acquired the kill, so the hyaenas did not cause immediate need, yet constituted a constant energy drain on lions by forcing them to hunt more frequently. The implications of these observations for modelling optimal hunting group size of lions are discussed.