Lions in Captivity


Lions are the most important animals in zoos since the late eighteenth century. More than 1,000 African and 100 Asian lions can be found in zoos around the world. There are different purposes of keeping – the preservation of the species and the exhibition of exotic animals. In captivity, lions live longer than in nature – they can live up to 20 years. Lion from the zoo of Honolulu Apollo died at the age of 22 in 2007, and his two sisters, born in 1986, are still alive.

The lion was kept in captivity as early as the time of the Assyrian kings, dating back to 850 BC. Hand specimens from North India were from Alexander the Great. In the Roman Empire, lions were used for gladiatorial combat. In the east, the lions were tamed by Indian princes. In Europe, lions were in menageries of royal families. Most zoos with lions appeared in Europe in the seventeenth century. One of the largest, the London Zoo, was opened on April 27, 1822.

The trade in wildlife flourished along with the rest of the colonial trade in the 19th century. Lions were ordinary animals in the markets and were sold at a relatively low price. The goods were considered boundless and therefore ruthlessly exploited; many animals died during transportation. Hunters on lions represented the heroic images of the larger part of the 19th century. They used the popular at that time division of animals into “good” and “evil” to add the effect of heroism in their hunting. This led to the fact that large cats began to be considered cannibals, representing “both the fear of nature and the satisfaction of overcoming it.”