Are Lions Smart? [Here’s the Truth]

are lions smart

Known for their bravery, strength, hunting skills, lions are one of the most iconic animals in the entire animal kingdom. But what about their intelligence? Are lions smart?

Yes, lions are smart animals. In fact, lions are the smartest species of all big cats. In several task-solving experiments, lions were able to outperform all other felines. Researchers believe that social life is the key to the lion’s advantage over other big cats and that social intelligence results in higher cognitive ability.

In this article, we are going to dive deeper into the question of how smart lions actually are.

Also, we will explore interesting experiments conducted on both wild and captive lions.

Let’s dive right in!

How Smart Are Lions?

Measuring animal intelligence is not a straightforward task. Many researchers would argue on a single definition of the animal’s intelligence.

However, learning, problem-solving, long-term memory, processing speed, and decision-making are the most common factors when measuring the animal’s cognitive abilities.

An experiment conducted on lions in captivity was supposed to show how intelligent lions really are. The task was to open the door of a box in which the food was placed earlier.

For her assignment, the first lioness examiner needed around 20 minutes to figure out the solution. And once the puzzle was solved, the lioness had no problem remembering the solution again and again, even after a long time.

However, what’s interesting is that a different lioness who was only watching the whole procedure managed to solve the task right off the bat.

The ability to learn and understand by observing is a sign of true intelligence. Finding out that lions possess this cognitive ability puts them in the company of the smartest creatures in the entire animal kingdom.

Another interesting experiment measuring the lion’s intelligence was conducted over big cats in the wild.

Namely, the researchers would play the sounds of roars to the nearby pride of lions. Male lions responsible for defending the territory were smart enough to estimate the number of enemies based on roars.

And so, if the researchers would play many roars sounds at the same time, the lions would withdraw from their territory without defending.

On the flip side, if the defending lions have sensed that intruders were in the minority, they would follow the roar sounds.

As a result of an experiment, the researchers have found out that the lions were smart enough to assess the odds of winning.

Are lions smarter than tigers?

An experiment conducted on all four species of big cats has shown that lions are smarter than tigers. Lions could solve tasks and puzzles that tigers couldn’t. In fact, based on the results of solving various cognitive tasks, lions have proved to be the smartest big cats.

Another reason that sets the lions’ intelligence apart from other big cats is their life in groups. Social intelligence results in a higher cognitive complexity as opposed to a solitary lifestyle.

Are lions smarter than dogs?

Lions and dogs have approximately the same level of intelligence. The number of neurons in lions and dogs is roughly the same.

However, given the complex tasks dogs can accomplish, we give a slight intelligence advantage in a favor of dogs.

Are lions smarter than house cats?

Lions are smarter than house cats. The impact of the environment and social life would make a difference in intelligence comparison between lions and house cats. Lions also have a higher number of neurons than domestic cats.

The size difference between lions and house cats would also play an important role when measuring the levels of intelligence. Lions do not worry about other predators, while house cats see the world as a threat in which they are prey.

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Why Are Lions Smart?

As we have mentioned earlier, lions have displayed signs of high intelligence in several testing experiments.

Also, fairly new abilities to being able to adapt to their surroundings by changing their habits and behaviors really move the needle when we talk about animal intelligence.

In addition, there are natural characteristics of lions that make them stand out from the average animal.

Lions are social animals

The fundamental reason for the lions’ higher levels of intelligence is their social life. Lions live in a complex group of up to 40 individuals, in which there is a clear hierarchy among family members.

Male lions guard the pride and the territory, while female lions handle hunting.

When hunting, lionesses use intelligent tactics to catch prey. Every individual lioness has different tasks based on the action of their hunting partner.

Also, based on how many lionesses are on the hunt; they’ll decide on the size of the animal they’ll attack. In case they are in large numbers, lionesses would hunt giraffes and other giant animals.

Besides, communication and calls are also important signs of lion intelligence.

They use a wide variety of sounds as a way of communication, both with the intruders and the pride members. Roaring is one of the most known ways of communication among lions.

Lions are carnivores

Carnivore species, in most cases, are smarter than herbivores. Lions, being predators, require additional intelligence to stalk, chase, and outsmart their prey. Carnivores have also learned that they have higher success when going after prey that is young and weak.

Animals that feed on the ground do not have such mental capacity. Most herbivores cannot predict or learn what their predator might do next. They basically act on instinct.

It is worth mentioning that not all herbivores are less smart than carnivores. Chimpanzees, elephants, and some parrot species, despite being herbivores, have displayed a tremendous level of intelligence.

However, the majority of the most intelligent animals come from a meat-eater group of creatures.


Although primarily recognizable by violence, lions are actually smart creatures. Studies have shown that lions have the highest level of intelligence among all big cats. Even though social intelligence was not important in studies conducted, scientists believe that social life plays an immense role in developing higher cognitive complexity.