A group of researchers working in a wildlife reserve in South Africa found that oxytocin can make lions less aggressive. Between 2018 and 2019, the team in charge of the research sprayed the nose of these animals with the hormone using a tool developed for this purpose.
After these tests, the scientists realized that the 23 lions that were administered oxytocin were more tolerant of other individuals with whom they shared the space, in addition to showing less vigilance towards intruders.
“By spraying oxytocin in the nose, we know that it can travel down the trigeminal nerve and the olfactory nerve directly to the brain. Otherwise, the blood-brain barrier could filter it,” says the research that was published in the journal Science.
According to the authors of the study, the change experienced by the specimens was evident and almost immediate. “You can see his features soften right away – they go from being tense and aggressive to this totally calm demeanor. They completely relax. It’s incredible,” added the scientists.
This treatment could prove useful as cities in Africa expand and encroach on lion territory. For these animals to be safe, many have had to be sent to private and closed reserves that cause the specimens to live together in small spaces, which increases the tension between them and aggression.
“The hope is that this will translate to animals relocating to the wild, helping them lean into their new social environment to be more curious and less fearful, leading to more successful bonding,” the researchers add.