Can a Lion Outrun a Cheetah?

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You may be reading the title of this article and chuckling to yourself. Many of us learn early in life that cheetahs are the fastest animals on land.

But what happens when a lion attempts to outrun a cheetah?

Let’s break down speeds for the two animals and find out.

How Fast Can a Lion Run?

Lion_King of the Jungle
Lion, king of the jungle (photo via Ingo Stiller/UnSplash License)

Lions have been called “kings/queens of the jungle” for ages, and for good reason. They are big, strong, ferocious, and fast.

This means lions are usually pretty good at reaching and compromising their prey. Sturdy, muscular bodies and massive paws with sharp teeth and claws also help the cause.

On land, lions can reach top speeds of roughly 50 miles per hour in short bursts, which is pretty startling in itself. Considering that typical “prey” animals like deer and mules cap out at top speed of 30-35 miles per hour, the lion has numerous advantages.

Can a Lion Sustain These Speeds?

Fortunately (for the prey), lions struggle to maintain top speeds after about 300 yards.

Still, that gives the predator a solid three full American football fields of length running at startling speeds. Also, keep in mind that top speeds for a lioness are slightly lower at around 45 mph.

National Geographic has a fun video that breaks down the speed and acceleration of a charging lion and lioness.

How Fast Can a Cheetah Run?

Conversely, cheetahs are known almost exclusively (from a physical perspective) for their speed. While cheetah are also noted predators, their physical dominance falls considerably below that of the lion.

That said, in terms of sheer speed and acceleration, the cheetah (when mature and healthy) will almost always be able to outrun a lion.

In comparison, cheetahs are able to sustain short bursts of speed clocking at roughly 70 mph. Some estimates suggest the cheetah can even reach speeds closer to 75 mph.

While the 20-25 mph difference may not seem terribly significant, this would be greater than the difference between a lion and a mule.

Can a Cheetah Sustain These Speeds?

Much like the lion, however, cheetahs struggle to maintain top speeds for long periods. After about thirty seconds, the cheetah will need to cut back on its speed.

If an evasive prey manages to create distance from the cheetah, its survival rate goes up considerably. Cheetahs can often take up to half an hour to recover fully from an intense speed burst.

What Happens when a Lion Tries to Outrun a Cheetah?

Photo via Aaron Schultz/Premier Angler

On lands where both adult lions and cheetahs live – like the Serengeti plains – the cheetah often becomes the prey. It is usually the cubs, however, who fall victim to predatory lions.

Adult cheetahs, while fending off attacks from lions (and pack predator like hyenas), rely on their speed and acceleration to create distance.

The following video shows an example of what may happen when a lion tries to outrun a cheetah. It is clear that the stakes are not terribly high here – the cheetah is not running for its life. Still, it would be relatively easy for the cheetah to escape the chase if it wanted or needed to.

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