Love Hormone Oxytocin Turns Fierce Lions Into Kittens
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Washington (AFP) – Here kitty kitty…
Scientists who spent years spraying lions’ noses with oxytocin found that the big cats became much friendlier to their neighbors and less likely to roar at strangers when dosed with the so-called ” love hormone.
The findings, published Wednesday in the journal iScience, could have major benefits for conservation efforts as unknown prides are increasingly forced by urban sprawl to live together on reserves.
“I’ve always loved lions,” neuroscientist and first author Jessica Burkhart told AFP, explaining that she got involved in the research because she was tired of examining the brains of animals in person. laboratory and wanted to study them in real life.
Cats in general have a reputation for being independent, but lions buck that trend – socially living in pride as they win and defend prized territories in the African savannah.
“If you think of male lions, for example, they will leave the pride when they are a few years old and they will meet other male lions that they don’t know and are unrelated to, and they will form lifelong bonds” , Burkhart said.
These types of behaviors indicated that lions – unlike cheetahs or solitary leopards – are biologically programmed to be social in certain situations, making them an interesting test species for oxytocin intervention.
– ‘Chemical hug’ –
In mammals, oxytocin is the main molecule that strengthens social bonds.
Sometimes called the ‘cuddly chemical’, it erupts in a mother’s brain as she looks into her newborn baby’s eyes, promoting feelings of well-being and happiness – all the while pushing the baby to want to s cling to his mother’s bosom.
Similar effects have been documented in other species, as well as between dogs and their human owners.
Therapists even suggest that troubled couples can benefit from increased eye contact, which releases oxytocin.
Working at a wildlife sanctuary in Dinokeng, South Africa, during the summers of 2018 and 2019, Burkhart and colleagues at the University of Minnesota conducted a test using pieces of raw meat to lure lions to a fence.
The hormone had to be sprayed directly into the nose, using a device that looks like an antique perfume bottle, so that it travels directly to the brain.
After treatment, the 23 lions given oxytocin became more tolerant of lions in their space. This was measured by seeing how close a lion that possesses a desired object, in this case a toy, will let others get to it.
“After the lions were treated with oxytocin and we gave them their favorite pumpkin toy, we saw the average distance between them decrease from about seven meters without treatment to about 3.5 meters after administration of ‘oxytocin,” Burkhart said.
The lions did not roar when played recorded roars of unknown intruders – unlike those in a control group who were sprayed with nothing or were sprayed with saline.
The drop in hostility toward strangers was a particularly encouraging finding, Burkhart said, because oxytocin is known to have a dark side in humans: while it promotes positive feelings toward members of a group , it can increase rivalry with strangers.
The treatment could be useful in a number of scenarios, she said.
First, it could help link unknown lions rescued from abusive situations, like circuses or zoos to war zones, which are then placed in sanctuaries.
Second, as cities in Africa expand and encroach on lion territory, conservationists are being forced to transport cats to private reserves where unknown prides are housed together – and oxytocin could help. to prevent conflicts.
It could also aid relocations to the wild, helping lions “become more attuned to their new social environment so they are more curious and less fearful, leading to more successful bonding,” Burkhart said.
One of the fears is that unscrupulous operators – in the vein of infamous ‘Tiger King’ Joe Exotic – could try to use the chemical to help run zoos that encourage cubs to pet, heavily criticized by the public. animal welfare advocates.
“The truth is that people are corrupt…but hopefully in this case it will help more than it will ever hurt,” Burkhart said.
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