The love hormone oxytocin transforms dangerous lions into adorable kittens.
When scientists sprayed oxytocin into the noses of dangerous lions over years, they discovered that the large cats became so much warmer with their neighbours and far less inclined to roaring at outsiders.
The findings, which were published in the journal iScience on Wednesday, might have substantial implications for conservation efforts. As unfamiliar prides are increasingly forced to live together in reservations as a result of urban sprawl.
“I’ve always loved lions,” Jessica Burkhart, a neurologist and first author, told AFP. She got part in the project because she was weary of studying the animals’ brains in the laboratory. She wished to study them in the wild.
Cats in general are known for their independence. Lions defy this stereotype by living in prides and defending valued territory on the African savanna.
“If you consider male lions, they’ll leave the pride when they’re a couple of years old and meet up with other male lions they don’t know or aren’t connected to, and they’ll create lifelong ties,” Burkhart explained.
These actions suggested that, unlike isolated cheetahs or leopards, lions are naturally predisposed to be social in specific contexts. This makes them a promising test animal for oxytocin intervention.
‘Cuddle chemical’ is a term used to describe a substance that is used to make people cuddle. Oxytocin is the primary chemical that strengthens social ties in mammals.
When a mother gazes into her newborn’s eyes, a molecule termed “cuddle chemical” rises into her brain. This promotes emotions of well-being and contentment while causing the infant to desire to cling on to her. It is released in large amounts during labor. Hugging, kissing, cuddling, and sexual intimacy can all trigger oxytocin production, which can strengthen bonds between adults, too.
Couples who are having troubles, according to therapists, can benefit from more eye contact, which produces oxytocin.
Results of Oxytocin
During the summers of 2018 and 2019, Burkhart and coworkers from the University of Minnesota tested a method of luring lions to a fence on a nature preserve in Dinokeng, South Africa.
The hormone had to be sprayed directly into the nose with an apparatus that resembled an antique perfume bottle in order for it to reach the brain.
The 23 lions given oxytocin became more tolerant of lions in their space after the therapy. This was determined by observing how close a lion with an object of desire, in this instance a toy, would allow others to approach it.
“After the lions were given oxytocin and their favourite pumpkin toy to play with, the average distance between them dropped from about seven metres with no therapy to about 3.5 metres after oxytocin was given,” Burkhart said.
When recorded roars of unexpected visitors were played, lions did not roar back. Unlike those in a control group who were either not sprayed at all or were doused with a saline solution.
Less aggressive behavior towards strangers was a seemingly positive finding, said Burkhart. Oxytocin is also known to trigger a bad side in people. It does promote a good attitude towards those within a group, it has the potential to increase competition with outsiders.
This treatment could be beneficial in a variety of situations. For starters, it could aid in the bonding of lions rescued from harsh conditions, such as circuses or war-zone zoos, and then placed in shelters.
Second, when towns encroach on lions’ area in Africa, conservationists are compelled to relocate the cats to private reserves where unknown prides are housed together. Oxytocin may help prevent fighting.
It could also aid lions in their return to the wild, allowing them to “become more attracted to their new social environment, resulting in more successful bonding,” according to Burkhart.
Unscrupulous operators, like the infamous “Tiger King” Joe Exotic, may try to utilize the drug to assist, manage zoos that promote cub petting, which has been widely criticized by animal welfare experts.
“The truth is that people are corrupt…but in this situation, perhaps it will benefit more than it will hurt,” Burkhart added.