Are Lions Actually Brave?

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For thousands of years, humans have looked to lions as one of the bravest animals around. An ancient Jewish text instructs the faithful to be “as brave as a lion to do the will of your Father in Heaven.” And King Richard the Lionheart was nicknamed for his courage and valor in battle, after all. But are lions actually brave, or is it just a myth? 

If we judge their behavior on human standards, lions actually are fairly brave. Though they probably don’t experience the feelings of bravery quite like we do, they’re not afraid to hunt big, dangerous prey.

“They’re the least afraid of anything of all the predators,” says Craig Packer, an ecologist with the University of Minnesota and one of the world’s foremost lion experts. 

Though female lions hunt gazelles and zebras, male lions are in charge of hunting large prey that must be taken down with brute force. “It’s no small thing to catch a buffalo,” Packer explains. "That’s quite a risky behavior.”

However, the line between bravery and stupidity can be thin, just as with humans. “Sometimes that courage kind of bleeds into foolishness,” Packer says, “because sometimes they’ll try to catch a rhinoceros or an elephant and they get killed.”

There you have it. Go ahead and keep praising people's lion-like courage.