Can You Tame a Lion and Keep it as a Pet?

Taming is simply a method of domesticating an animal. This domestication of animals is linked back to the early times when hunters and gatherers used to tame them for their safety. This process does not occur in a short time; rather, through years and years of selective breeding that allows humans to control the animals’ behaviors. One prominent and most apt example is dogs.

It took about thousands of years for wolves to become the dogs that we all pet and keep from the roaring wild animals they used to be. The process involved centuries of hard work and petting to selectively breed a species of wolves that developed behaviors, senses, and even muscle structure different than that of their wild ancestors. If you love dogs and are interested to read more about the famous Fawn pied french bulldog, just open the link.

Why Would Anyone Want to Domesticate an Animal?

Generally, the reasons why people want to domesticate any animal fall into three main categories: companionship, food, work (earning). We all know how people rely on dogs and cats for companionship. Also, we do not know how cows in the wild used to differ from the ones we have for dairy purposes. The domestication of cows has led us to have them as farm animals that do not cause any harm. The last category highlighting how people tame wild animals for food or earning is evident in the circus. We all have been to the circus witnessing a man dressed in a flashy suit lying around and playing with lions, tigers, and leopards. Cub petting is one of the greatest ways of earning money in return for entertaining people, as shown repeatedly in Tiger King.

Lion Taming

Though “taming a lion” is commonly used as a metaphor by teachers trying to control a group of rowdy students or managers trying to tackle an enraged customer, “Lion Taming” is also used in its literal meaning. It is a whole area of study wherein specialized trainers try and tame wild animals, such as tigers, lions, and leopards. The introduction of this unique inspiration is usually linked to the circus performances where lion tamers show off their taming skills to the people.

Innately, a lion is not meant to be tamed, trained, or domesticated. It is a wild animal that feeds on other animals and is a meat-lover. It is so not a piece-of-cake to be kept and petted. It opens its mouth bigger than a human head (about a foot) and has a set of teeth so sharp that they can easily crush a bull’s spine. Reading this, it is hard to imagine that anyone would want to tame it; but people still do.

Let us have a look at the history of lion taming, get to know some famous lion tamers, and then delve into the discussion of how to tame a lion and whether they can be kept as a pet or not.

History of Lion Taming and Famous Lion Tamers

It was in 1783 when the first-ever circus came to America. Before this year, the circus world was famous for animal display, including equestrian only. The wild animals were only kept for display. However, the following years changed history forever when the tamers stepped into the ring with the most daring display people have ever seen – fearless acts with a wild animal. It was magical, and the people loved it.


Henri Martin, a French circus performer, showcased the daring show in 1819 by entering a tiger’s cage. He did not suffer any scratch. It was a big hit. Martin later disclosed how he used to tame his wild animal by posing himself harmless and making the tiger used to his presence. His taming technique is, by far, the most ethical one.


Later, Isaac Van Amburgh, an American lion tamer, appeared with his tiger, lion, and leopard in the ring in 1833. It was Van Amburgh’s violent training method that saw an uproar later in the animal rights campaigns. He was famous for his inhumane training techniques, which usually involved using beating with a crowbar. This resulted in wild animals learning to be submissive to the human beatings.

Clyde Beatty is another famous name among the top lion tamers. He was famous for using a whip and a pistol to tame his big cats. He used to collect praises and admiration for showing how he could exert control over these wild beasts.

Then came Gunther Gebel-Williams in 1969. He is credited for challenging the previously-famous violent training techniques. Gunther appeared in numerous shows and circus performances with his favorite tiger draped across his shoulders. He claimed to gain his big cats’ respect and trust.

Lion Taming or Training Techniques

Lion taming in today’s time and era thankfully excludes the use of crowbars, whips, and guns. The animals are trained not to hurt by bullying into submission with scare tactics. Tamers usually utilize a combination of methods that are largely based on repeatedly gaining the trust of the animals and rewarding them for behaving. Mostly, these trainers work their way from raising a cub to a big cat so that they can develop a special bond wherein the animal trusts the human completely.

1. Operant Conditioning

A psychologist, B. F. Skinner, came to develop a theory of rewards and reinforcements called operant conditioning. Most exotic animal trainers are seen to be using this theory. It is a fundamental concept in behavioral psychology. The theory works on the main principle of creating a relationship between the desired behavior and a cue or a signal for which the trainee is rewarded.

The main idea behind this theory is that the likelihood of a random behavior happening again increases when it is rewarded. This is very important in shaping the behavior that is desired.

2. Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning heavily relies on associating a certain cue or a signal with a behavior. This is the idea of a Russian psychologist, and it runs on the principle that you combine the cue with the desired behavior.

Can Lions be Trained and Kept as a Pet?

There is no straight-away answer other than “it is too risky.” Yes, you can tame a lion and make it do things at a snap of fingers, but keeping them as a pet is too risky. Lions are, after all, wild animals, and their species have not yet been domesticated. It is too dangerous to have a lion roaming around your backyard or in the house as a pet because, let us face it, they are unpredictable.

Read about what happened with Christian the Lion. Christian was rescued by his owners when he was a cub and then left in the wild when he was about a year old. The video of the family reuniting with the lion they raised as a cub became a sensation in 1972. Christian had remembered them and could be witnessed nuzzling their neck and behaving like a house cat. This story might lead people into believing that lions can be tamed and petted.

However, on the other hand, we have the tragic story of Siegfried and Roy. They ran ten years of successful tiger acts who acted like their feline friends. In 2003, one of the tigers attacked Roy so badly that he ended up suffering partial paralysis. This incident stirred up several investigations. No matter the reason, this incident proved that wild animals such as lions and tigers are innately aggressive. So, the question can lions be tamed or not is simply that they are too unpredictable to be kept as a pet.

Lions as House Pets is a Big No-No

Not unless a thousand years pass by while animal-lovers work on domesticating these wild beasts, it is highly unsafe to keep a lion as a pet. No matter how tame it is, the instincts of these animals remain intact – and that is to hunt. These big cats are also used to ample free space with several jumping, crawling, and hunting spaces. A dearth of this natural habitat is the most common cause of an attack on the caregiver or, even worse, running free.