Can Lions Be Domesticated? 🦁

Many different wild animals can, and have been, domesticated – but not lions. Hundreds of lions have been tamed and kept privately – but never domesticated.

Many different wild animals can, and have been, domesticated – but not lions. Hundreds of lions have been tamed and kept privately – but never domesticated.

How Can Lions Be Domesticated?

Domestication isn’t just a thing – it is a reason, a process. Firstly, you need to have an end goal – the reason why you want to domesticate a lion in the first place.

If it is just to keep it in a large enclosure as it is – but just less likely to hurt you – then this isn’t domestication. It is just taming and habituation. Like running an elephant sanctuary.

Just like with most other domesticated animals – you need to end up with something biologically identical to, but behaviorally and physically quite different from, the original. Only then is it truly domesticated – for example from the Gray Wolf (Canis lupus) to the domestic dog (Canis lupus).

For this change to occur there needs to be selection pressure on it for a behavioral and/or physical trait that you want it to have in its domesticated form. Without this, there can’t be any change towards it not being wild anymore – so domestication cannot occur.

For example, do you want your lion to be smaller; without claws; spotted; or able to pull a cart? You have to selectively breed towards what you want it to be and away from what you don’t. And this same selection pressure needs to continue for many generations to be effective.

How Would You Domesticate A Lion?

To domesticate a lion – firstly you need to aim for a change in character – we can’t have domesticated lions that attack humans.

Therefore lion breeders need to continually only use the friendliest lions in their breeding programs.

This doesn’t always mean you will get the friendliest ones straight away – just don’t breed the worst ones for starters.

Over time, by breeding away from the grumpy ones, you should gradually end up with animals that are a bit nicer. Hopefully, this behavior is passed on to the young and can be replicated every time (just like dogs – dogs aren’t occasionally born as a wolf again).

Once you have calmer lions, you can work towards the other traits you want as part of this process. Remember domestication has to have a goal otherwise, it won’t work.

Unfortunately, to selectively breed for such big changes, you need a large gene pool and access to plenty of animals – something not so easy with lions. Additionally, you need to keep them healthy in the first place. Domestic livestock are easy to keep and feed – however adult lions will not settle down into smaller enclosures or become vegetarian anytime soon. This will seriously affect the domestication process.

Is It Legal To Own A Lion?

In many states, it is actually legal to own a lion or lions – whether or not you have ever even owned a pet cat. There are bans on importing big cats and interstate movement – but if you really want one (and are happy to move to the right state) you can actually own a lion (permit and insurance pending).

Needless to say, they aren’t easy to keep both in their enclosure and their diet – estimated to need around 7kg (15lbs) of meat a day. Big Cat Rescue has some estimates for keeping your big cats healthy – from the right enclosure to vets, to food and it isn’t something most people might have considered. Assuming nothing goes wrong, it looks like there will be a $10,000 annual food bill alone. Needless to say if anything goes wrong – you won’t have many kitty vets willing to come around yours for your lion’s dental check!

There are breeders though, with plenty of lion cubs and other big cats that can be purchased across the country. Hopefully, these breeders will make sure you are all set up and ready for their arrival way before you arrange collection – suggesting suppliers to install your 8ft perimeter fence – and then your 5-acre internal enclosure to house the actual animal itself.

Can You Train A Lion?

Absolutely. But remember that being able to train an animal doesn’t make it domesticated.

Animal training using positive reinforcement techniques can work on any animal. You just need to find the right reward and have infinite patience and understanding. Big cats can be ‘trained’ out of fear too of course (as can be seen all over the internet) but these animals are very likely to revert to type and can cause serious injury.

Mind you, even lions trained with love and attention can still act like lions – sometimes without any bad intentions but often very bad results.

Also, Remember to Read Our Other Articles On Lions