We’ve all watched those nature shows at some point in our lives; the lion stalks a buck, and suddenly it launches itself into a sprint and, seemingly without effort, takes down its prey.

This is no mean feat as a buck can run really fast for a long period, so how fast can lions actually run?

Lions can run at up to 50 mph; however, they can only maintain this for short periods of time.

This big cat is best suited for running short distances and quickly overpowering its prey. Their bodies are built for speed and strength with lightning-fast reflexes that help them to take their prey unawares.

This article is going to explore the speedy world of big cats and let you know exactly how fast lions can run.

Why Lions Need to Be Fast

The reason lions need to be fast comes down to their diet and their habitat.

Lions are carnivores that live in savannas and grasslands. These areas are open and flat, so good hunting relies on speed rather than agility.

The primary source of meat for lions is ungulates, which are hooved mammals like wildebeest and other bucks, giraffes, and zebras. Ideally, these buck will be between 420 and 1200 lb in weight. These animals live in herds and feed on grasses and vegetable matter, which makes them very nutritious for lions to eat.

Lionesses will hunt in groups, stalking near a herd of their prey before taking off in a fast sprint. They overpower their kills by grabbing the animal by the hindquarters with their large claws.

The reason lions need to be fast is that they need to be able to outrun their prey so they can take them down. Once they have them on the ground, they can easily overpower and kill them by breaking the animal’s neck or suffocating it.

So how fast can lions really run? Let’s find out!

How Fast Can a Lion Run?

Lions can reach speeds of 50 mph in short bursts.

So, as we discussed above, lions need to be able to outrun their prey to overpower them.

If we look at wildebeest, for example, they can reach up to 40 mph, but they are much lighter than a lion. This means that they can maintain their speed for far longer than a lion.

Lions rely on this initial burst of speed as well as the element of surprise to get the best of whatever they are hunting to come out the victors. If they end up chasing the herd for too long, they will run out of steam and lose their chance.

Cougars, or mountain lions, which are more commonly found in the Americas, can actually run the same speed as an African lion, although they are not related.

Which Big Cat is the Fastest?

So now you know that lions can run really fast, but how do they compare with other big cats?

Let’s look at them side by side:

CatSpeed (mph)

As you can see, there is a reason that big cats have such a reputation for being ferocious hunters, and their immense speed is just one of those reasons.

Overall, as you may have expected, the cheetah is the fastest of these big cats, but that is not surprising as they are the fastest land mammal.

A lot of the reason for their speed is that, in comparison with lions, they are much shorter and leaner in size, which means they can achieve faster speeds for more extended periods. Another factor to take into consideration is their tiny, nimble paws, which are much faster than the lion’s massive paws.

However, cheetahs are no match for lions when it comes to brute strength when face to face. They are far heavier and have more muscle than the slender cheetah could compete with.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a lion outrun a human?

Humans run an average of 10-13 km/h, so; clearly, a lion can outrun a human very easily. We also have reflexes that work far slower than these big cats, putting us at a disadvantage.

In fact, humans can outrun very few predators, which is why we are advised not to attempt to run from them.

What is the best way to fight off a lion?

So now that you know that you can’t outrun a lion, what do you do when you are confronted by one?

The number one tip we can give is: do not turn your back!

As we discussed, they will easily outrun you, so there is no point in trying. Turning your back will be seen as a challenge and may encourage the lion to attack.

We advise maintaining eye contact with the lion while backing away slowly. Combine this with clapping your hands and shouting. Your goal is to make yourself look as loud and big as possible to make the lion think twice about attacking.


Although they can’t maintain it for a long time, lions can reach speeds of up to 50 mph over short distances.

They are bested in speed by the notorious cheetah, but they are still incredibly fast and formidable predators. When they work as a team and get their timing perfect, their speed is perfect to be able to overpower and win their next meal.

The next time you are in a car, and you reach 50 mph, you know that you are traveling as fast as a lion!

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