Lions Have Hunted Humans in the Past — but They Aren't as Dangerous as You'd Think

Anna Garrison - Author

Jan. 2 2024, Published 1:29 p.m. ET

Lion on a savannah at sunset
Source: iStock

The Gist:

  • According to BBC Science Focus, lions kill on average about 200 people a year. However, data from 2023 shows that in 70 years, lions were responsible for 282 deaths.
  • Lions are currently listed as "vulnerable" as populations are in decline due to loss of habitat and human-wildlife conflict.
  • Humans are more likely to encounter lions if they embark upon safaris or tours where they do not abide by the rules.
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If the increased number of bear attacks and shark attacks in the news has alarmed you, be thankful you don't live in an area where lion attacks could be added to the mix. Although large carnivores typically avoid humans, the effects of climate change and deforestation have created a troubling pattern of animal interaction.

Lions are beautiful and majestic creatures, but do they attack humans for food or for sport? Keep reading for everything you need to know about lions, their hunting habits, and why predator attacks may be more prominent than years past.

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Pride of lions on a savannah.
Source: iStock

Do lions attack humans?

Lions do attack humans, but they attack humans far less frequently than you would expect. According to a study published in PLOS Biology in 2023, a survey encompassing data from 1950 to 2019 reveals that lions are in the top ten animals that cause the most attacks — at number seven with 282 attacks.

The animal with the highest number of human attacks is the sloth bear, followed by tigers.

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The study also revealed that the number of carnivore attacks has increased worldwide, likely due to deforestation and human-animal conflict brought about by urban expansion. However, USA Today points out that the increase in numbers might just be a result of increased incident reporting.

According to conservation scientist Luke Dollar, who spoke to National Geographic in 2015, lions see most creatures as potential prey. "Almost any organism around lions might be a potential prey item, and for people to think that they are an exception is folly. I would imagine that every other primate that co-exists with big cats is acutely aware of the position they hold relative to the top predators of the world."

To lions, humans do not have noticeable fangs or claws, thus, appearing even more of an easy meal.

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Mother lion with two cubs.
Source: iStock

Lions have attacked humans that came too close to their habitat. A notable example occurred in 2015 when a woman on a safari in South Africa was visiting a lion reserve and rolled down her car window to take a photo, per CNN. The lion lunged through the window and attacked, and the woman died.

Overall, it's best to stay far away from safaris altogether, as they can potentially risk harm to humans and the animals, per Harper's Bazaar.

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Are lions endangered?

According to the World Wildlife Foundation, lions are considered "vulnerable." While not endangered yet, populations are in significant decline primarily due to deforestation, decline in available prey, and human-animal conflict.

Lions that exist outside protected areas like game reserves often target livestock when prey is scarce. Tragically, farmers often retaliate against lions by killing them.

Pride of lions walking in a savannah.
Source: iStock

On Jan. 1, 2024, a man was killed by a lion while riding a motorcycle.

On Jan. 1, 2024, police in Kenya recovered the body of a man who was attacked by a lion while he was riding near the Shimba Hills National Reserve, reports ABC News.

Police became involved in the incident after community members noticed the abandoned motor bike. Upon arriving at the scene, police spotted lion footprints that led to a thicket where the body was located.

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