This is an intranasal application of oxytocin, the ‘love hormone’. It has an interesting effect on these felines. It makes them calm down and tolerate their conspecifics much better. Researchers at the wildlife reserve in Dinokeng, South Africa, did just that. It is the spray that can tame lions. The work was published in the journal iScience.
Lions protect their territory fiercely. Aggression is an advantage for predators in the wild. But it poses real challenges for specimens in reserves or in captivity. Using oxytocin could be a good remedy.
Biologist Craig Packer and neuroscientist Sarah Heilbronner did the tests. They sprayed oxytocin up the felines’ noses. “Oxytocin travels down the olfactory nerve directly to the brain,” says Jessica Burkhart. She is lead author. “Otherwise, the blood-brain barrier might leak it.”
The 23 lions that received oxytocin were more tolerant of other lions in their space. They also showed less vigilance toward intruders. “You can see their features soften immediately. They go into a totally calm demeanor,” Burkhart says. “They completely relax. It’s amazing.”
“The average distance between them decreased from about 7 meters without treatment to about 3.5 meters,” they note. But this changes in a scenario where there was food. There was no increased tolerance to each other after administering the hormone.
In fenced private reserves, often lions from different prides mix with each other. This spray would help to relax hostilities. Oxytocin is a hormone that helps build social bonds and trust in animals, including humans. It is produced in large quantities during pregnancy. Some therapies recommend it for autism and anorexia nervosa.
Spray that can tame lions recalls previous Canadian research. An oxytocin spray that would serve to promote extroversion and combat shyness. It is clear that the full potential uses of this therapy have yet to be discovered.