Are Lions Friendly? [Answer Explained]

Photo: Daniel Keith Danckwerts / Shutterstock

Lions are truly impressive creatures with incredible strength and powerful hunting techniques.

But some lions appear friendly, especially cubs seen in zoos and tourist attractions, which makes many people wonder whether they have the capacity to live as pets.

Lions can be friendly to humans, especially when raised in captivity, but they never lose their natural instincts and potential for aggression. When it comes to friendliness toward other lions, these cats are very social and live in prides that partake in hunting, defending their territory, and raising cubs together. Still, lions can be violent toward members of other prides.

Continue reading to learn about whether lions can be tamed and domesticated. We’ll also discuss lions’ social behavior, whether they’re friendly to each other, and the situations in which they can be violent.

Are Lions Friendly To Humans?

Lions are considered one of the world’s deadliest mammals. Not only are they the king of the jungle, killing many different types of prey, but they can also be dangerous to humans in some situations.

For example, between the years 1990 and 2005, nearly 900 people in Tanzania were victims of lion attacks. Around 100 people die there each year due to lion attacks.

Lions have even attacked babies, although it’s very rare for them to do so.

Sometimes, lions living in captivity can appear to be friendly to humans. This is especially true if they were raised by humans all their lives and socialized at a young age.

But whether lions can truly be tamed and domesticated is a controversial topic.

Can Lions Be Tamed?

Unfortunately, lions that are raised in captivity to interact with tourists do not get to have the experiences that make lions the amazing animals they are.

They miss out on learning from their mothers, playing with other cubs, hunting, and more.

Cubs, in particular, often act friendly and even loving toward humans. Still, this does not mean that captivity and living alongside humans are right for lions, and it doesn’t mean they lose their potential for aggression.

Being raised in captivity results in adult lions that are considered abnormal.

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They grow up lacking the survival and social skills that they would need to live in the wild. They’re cooped up during the periods of time in which they would naturally be the most active.

Many sources state that although some lions may appear to be tame, they cannot be truly tamed because they are not suitable for life in captivity. 

One study showed that lions, along with other wide-ranging carnivores, constantly pace in captivity due to intense feelings of frustration and stress.

Attacks By Tamed Lions

Even lions that are considered tame and act friendly toward humans have attacked in the past. 

A man named Leon van Biljon raised three lions from the time they were cubs. Years later, he was fixing a fence in their enclosure when one of them attacked him from behind and took his life. 

As a source close to van Biljon explained, although the lions seemed tame, they were still predators that retained their natural instincts.

In a news story from 2017, a young boy was attacked by his grandmother’s friend’s lion, which was kept in a cage and thought to be tame. He eventually passed away due to his injuries.

An American woman on a safari was also attacked by a lion when she rolled down her car window to take photos of the wildlife.

These are just a few examples showing that even lions that appear tame and friendly do not automatically lose their predatory nature and hunting instincts.

Can Lions Be Domesticated?

Domestication is not something that can take place with a single animal. An individual lion can be “tamed” to some degree, but it cannot be domesticated. Domestication is a long process that takes place over many generations of animals.

The animals are selectively bred and adapted to live with humans, and domesticated animals have significant genetic differences from their wild ancestors. 

Animals that are good candidates for domestication typically have the following traits:

  • They live in herds
  • They consume plant-based diets
  • They grow and mature over a short period of time
  • They breed easily and frequently in captivity
  • They can easily adapt to changing conditions

Wolves are one example of an animal that has been domesticated. The domesticated version of a wolf is a dog. There are major differences between wolves and dogs that came as a result of the domestication and selective breeding process.

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If lions were to be domesticated, they would no longer be considered lions because they would be genetically distinct from them. In addition, lions simply are not good candidates for domestication because they don’t have many of the traits listed above.

Some zoos and other types of tourist attractions claim to have domesticated their lions and allow tourists to interact with them directly. However, experts report that this is dangerous for both lions and humans.

Are Lions Friendly To Each Other?

While lions aren’t always friendly toward humans, they tend to be much friendlier toward each other–if they’re part of the same pride, that is.

Social Behavior

Lions are thought of as social cats and family animals because they live in prides that typically consist of 15 or more lions. Prides can be made up of as many as 40 lions in some situations!

Within their prides, lions do many activities together: defending their territory, hunting prey, and raising cubs. Many female lions in the same pride give birth around the same time, and they may even nurse each other’s cubs.

Female lions tend to spend their entire lives in their mother’s pride. In some cases, they move to a new pride with their sisters. 

Male lions, on the other hand, tend to only spend a few years in any given pride, but they do stay with other males called their coalition partners throughout their lives.

Signs Of Affection

Lions show each other many signs of affection, including the following:

  • Head rubbing or nuzzling as a greeting behavior
  • Draping their tails over each other’s backs in greeting
  • Licking and grooming each other
  • Vocalizing through purrs and meows

Territorial Behavior

While lions can work together and be affectionate toward other members of their pride, they don’t show the same friendliness to other lions.

Lions are known to be extremely territorial, and they often live in the same area for generations at a time. 

Females generally defend their territories from other females, while males protect the pride from other male coalitions.

One clear display of territoriality is the lion’s roar, which can be heard as far as five miles away. When lions hear a communal roar, they can tell how many individuals make up the roaring group, and if they outnumber them, they’ll go on to challenge them.

Lions also employ scent marking in the form of urine, scat, and spray as a way to mark their territory. They leave scent marks along the edges of their territory and in areas where it’s likely that there will be overlap with other prides, such as water sources.

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Violence Among Lions

While territoriality certainly isn’t friendly, it doesn’t always end in death for other lions. Still, there are certain situations in which lions will be extremely violent toward other lions.


One important instance in which violence takes place is when a new male coalition takes over a pride.

This sometimes results in the infanticide of all of the existing cubs in the new pride. The reason for this is that the male lions want to reproduce with the females of the pride.

Generally, the females will not mate again until their cubs are at least a year and a half old. If their cubs die, however, they will mate again within just a few days. Sometimes, mothers also die as they attempt to protect their cubs.

In some cases, female lions kill cubs from rival prides. They never kill other cubs in their pride, though. About one-quarter of all lion cub deaths are the result of infanticide.


There are other aggressive acts committed by lions, but these take place less frequently. 

Lions tend to avoid fights if they can tell that their odds of winning are low; they usually only fight if there is an immediate threat. For the most part, lions live amicably and avoid violence by using vocalizations and baring their teeth.

When fights do take place, biting, grappling, slapping, and group attacks will often be part of them. These fights are usually severe and end in a quick death for at least one of the participants.


It’s possible for lions to act friendly toward humans, especially if they were socialized from a young age. But even “tame” lions still have their natural instincts, which means the potential for aggression against humans never completely disappears.

Lions are much friendlier toward other lions, particularly other members of their pride. Prides complete many daily activities together, from hunting prey and protecting their territory to raising cubs. In some situations, though, lions will fight and even kill others from different prides.

Read More About Lions:

  1. Why Are Lions King Of The Jungle?
  2. Why Do Lions Lick Their Prey?
  3. How Strong Are Lions?
  4. Can Lions Climb Trees?
  5. Can Lions Swim?

James Ball

James has had a lifelong passion for animals and nature, tracing back to his childhood where he first began fostering intimate knowledge and connection with pet frogs and snakes. He has since honed this interest into a career as a trained Wildlife Biologist, specializing in Biogeography, sustainability and conservation. In addition to his professional pursuits, James maintains an active lifestyle, regularly indulging in outdoor activities such as hiking, and musical pursuits like playing piano and swimming.

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