Aims . Indicators of pending state-shifts carry value for policy makers. Predator–prey relations reflect key ecological processes that shape ecosystems. Variance in predator–prey relations may serve as a key indicator of future state-shifts.
Methods . Lion (Panthera leo) diet in the Kruger National Park was evaluated as such an indicator. Over the three-decade time span reviewed, variance in diet in relation to rainfall, prey abundance, management strategies and disease emergence were reviewed.
Key results . Rainfall patterns, both seasonal and cyclical, were identified as key drivers of predator–prey selection. However, the intensity of management in the form of artificial waterpoints overrode and confounded natural process. The results suggest that savanna systems are stable and punctuated by climatic events in the form of extreme above-average rainfall that temporarily destabilises the system. However, droughts are a cyclical part of the savanna system.
Conclusion . Lion prey selection did fluctuate with changing environmental conditions. Abrupt state shifts did occur; however, the ecosystem returned to a stable state.
Implications . State shifts in ecosystems pose key challenges to conservation managers. State shifts appear to be primarily associated with management interventions and environmental factors.