Can You Have a Lion as a Pet? (Is It Legal and Safe?)

You watched a safari show on the Discovery Channel and thought you wanted to have a lion? But, can you have a lion as a pet?

Yes, you can have a lion as a pet. At least, if you live in the US. But be aware, in most states you do need a permit to own a lion. If you live in the UK, it’s similar, you need to have a license to own a lion. Lions are dangerous, unusual pets, the laws are in place to protect you.

Well, as you can see, the answer isn’t that clear, so let’s get a little bit deeper into it!

Can you get a lion as a pet?

Yes, you can get a lion as a pet. It depends on where you live and the local laws, but it’s usually possible with some permit or license.

There are also multiple ways how to get a lion that we will discuss later. The main question, however, is different. Is it a good idea to have a lion as your pet?

Well, the answer is probably not. Lions are wild animals. They are no tamed like dogs. Of course, you can train him, raise him, but there’s still a chance you will get harm. And this big “pet” should rather live in the wilderness, living his own life and not sitting on your couch.

Also, please consider that getting a lion as your new pet is taking a big responsibility. The average lifespan is 8 to 15 years. Are you ready to take care of it for so long? It can get very overwhelming after a few years as the lion grows up. And during all these years, it will be your responsibility.

What if you would like to go on a vacation? Who will take care of your lion? And what if you will need a vet? Not many vets are willing to work with lions. You need to consider all this.

Is having a lion illegal?

Having a lion is illegal only if you don’t have any permit or license. If you buy a lion on a black market and don’t register it, then yes, it’s illegal.

But if you get through the process to get your permit, comply with the law, and your local authorities are aware of it, it should be perfectly fine.

Can lions live with humans?

Yes, lions can live with humans. It all depends on how well they’re trained or tamed. It’s all about a mutual respect. Show them respect, and they will do the same. Also, please don’t do anything they may perceive as a threat. It requires some knowledge about these wildcats to know how to handle them.

The problem is most people have a problem handling even their dogs, and they’re domesticated. Lions? That’s an entirely different category. And the worst part is that they’re not dangerous only for the owner, but also for public safety… Neighbors and people from animal removal services if your “pet” escapes.

Can lions be friendly to humans?

Yes, of course, lions can be friendly. Especially when you raise one, there’s a high chance you will be like a family for him, and he will treat you like that.

A good example is the story of Frikkie and Zion. You can watch it in the following video:

Is it safe to have a lion as a pet?

Yes and no. If you raise a lion or train him properly, there’s a big chance it’s safe. But the problem is it’s still a wildcat. It has instincts, killer and hunter instincts. Instincts that are needed to survive in the wild. And that’s something you can’t completely get out of him.

It will be inside him, and the question is if these instincts will wake up or not. You can do something unintentionally that feels like a threat to him. A quick movement, an unpleasant sound like a yelp, etc. It’s there, and you can’t control it.

Another problem is that lions are pretty big animals. Their weight on average is 420 pounds for males and 280 pounds for females. That’s not exactly a pet you can play with, right? When you’re playing with a wildcat of this size, you need to be extremely careful.

Even if he’s only playing and doesn’t want to do anything to you, there may be an accident where he unintentionally hurts you. It’s like playing with kids. You can control yourself, but this 420 pounds lion can lose control and unintentionally hurt you.

Or you get hurt playing your game, blood flows everywhere, and that’s when the predatory instincts kick in, and you’re not that good guy anymore, but prey. What then? The chances this happens are slim, but it’s not impossible.

The situation described above is the better case when your relationship with the lion is more like a friendship, or you’re like his family. There’s that bond and love between you.

Worst case scenario is that this relationship between you and the lion is built on fear. For example, when someone trained him to be afraid of certain things that cause him pain. That’s not a healthy relationship, and there’s a good chance the lion will attack at the first opportunity.

How can I get a pet lion?

Usually, import and interstate trade are prohibited, so it leaves you with two options:

  1. Captive private breeders
  2. Auctions

You can find these in many states, but always make sure you have all permits and licenses. Otherwise, you will get into big trouble.

How much does a lion cost?

Lion prices vary a lot depending on what you expect.

If you want to buy a lion cub, prepare approximately $350,000. It’s not a cheap proposition, but on the other hand, you can raise him from a baby and create a great bond.

If you want an adult lion, prices range from $5,000 to $140,000. It depends on how rare that lion is. Some are more expensive, for example, white lions.

Can you tame a lion?

Yes, you can tame a lion. It’s called lion taming, and it’s really a whole discipline. Lions are usually tamed for protection, to become pets, or for entertainment in a circus. The taming process is quite complicated, but there are three main approaches:

  1. You are slowly teaching the lion to get used to your presence. That means you’re slowly introducing yourself to the lion, first only hand, the whole arm, leg, body, etc. Once he is used to your presence, you should be safe.
  2. You’re using violent methods and fear to control the tiger. When he doesn’t listen to your commands, you punish him. This is a very cruel way, and the lion can attack you at any moment.
  3. You’re using repetition and building a bond with the lion. You try to earn his trust and form that bond. You can also use operant conditioning which means that you reward the lion for good behavior, usually with some snack. This is probably the best way and the one that is used.

So yes, you can tame a lion. However, it’s still a wild animal, so be aware. They’re not in their natural environment, so they can act unpredictably and attack you at any moment.

lion taming

If you raise a lion from birth, will it attack you?

If you raise a lion from birth, it probably won’t attack you. That said, there is still the possibility that something like this can happen. No matter what bond you have, it’s still a wildcat with instincts deep inside.

It also depends on your breeding skills. But in general, raising a lion from birth is probably the safest way how to have a lion as a pet. The bond is unique. Someone says that it’s 100x less likely that you will get attacked by a raised lion than by a dog, but there’s still a chance.

Can you have a lion as a pet in the US?

Yes, you can have a lion as a pet in the US, but you need to have a permit to own one in most states. Let’s get more in detail, state by state.

Alabama: In Alabama, you can own a lion without any license or permit. You need a permit only if you want to exhibit your lion.

Alaska: It’s forbidden to own a lion in Alaska.

Arizona: You can’t own a lion in Arizona. There are few exceptions, though. That includes education, public health, wildlife management, wildlife rehabilitation, and commercial photography.

Arkansas: It’s not allowed to own a lion in Arkansas.

California: You can’t have a lion in California.

Colorado: It’s prohibited to own a lion in Colorado.

Connecticut: It’s illegal to own a lion in Connecticut.

Delaware: You can own a lion in Delaware with an appropriate permit.

Florida: It’s banned to have a lion in Florida.

Georgia: You can’t have a lion in Georgia.

Hawaii: Lions are illegal to own in Hawaii.

Idaho: Idaho doesn’t allow you to own a lion.

Illinois: You can own a lion in Illinois only if you’re zoo, circus, or other acceptable organization.

Indiana: Lions aren’t banned in Indiana, but you need a permit for them.

Iowa: You can’t have any lion in Iowa.

Kansas: It’s forbidden to own a lion in Kansas.

Kentucky: Kentucky doesn’t allow you to own a lion.

Louisiana: It’s prohibited to own a lion in Louisiana.

Maine: Maine also doesn’t allow you to own lions.

Maryland: Lions are prohibited from owning in Maryland.

Massachusetts: You can’t own a lion in Massachusetts.

Michigan: Michigan also forbids owning a lion.

Minnesota: Lions are forbidden in Minnesota.

Mississippi: In Mississippi, you need to have a permit to own a lion. However, you must renew the permit every year, and it’s pretty tricky to get one.

Missouri: You can own a lion in Missouri, but you need a permit.

Montana: You need to have a license to own a lion in Montana.

Nebraska: You can apply for a permit to have a lion.

Nevada: You can own a lion in Nevada without any restrictions.

New Hampshire: All big cats, including lions, are prohibited in New Hampshire.

New Jersey: Owning a lion in New Jersey is forbidden unless you’re a zoo or exhibitor. Then you need to apply for permission.

New Mexico: You can’t own a lion in New Mexico.

New York: It’s not allowed to own a lion in New York.

North Carolina: Rules in North Carolina vary for each city and region.

North Dakota: If you want to own a lion in North Dakota, you need a license.

Ohio: You need a permit to own a lion in Ohio.

Oklahoma: In Oklahoma, you need to get a wildlife breeder’s license to own a lion.

Oregon: Lions are forbidden to own in Oregon.

Pennsylvania: You can’t own a lion in Pennsylvania without a permit.

Rhode Island: You need a permit to own a lion in Rhode Island.

South Carolina: Lions are illegal to own in South Carolina.

South Dakota: You need a permit and a veterinarian’s examination in South Dakota to own a lion.

Tennessee: You can’t own a lion in Tennessee.

Texas: You can own a lion in Texas only with a license.

Utah: You need to have a permit in Utah to own a lion. And they’re super difficult to get.

Vermont: Lions in Vermont are allowed only for educational purposes or exhibitions, and even then, you need a permit to own them.

Virginia: You need to apply for a permit to own a lion in Virginia.

Washington: Lions are illegal to own in Washington.

West Virginia: You can’t keep lions in West Virginia.

Wisconsin: It’s not allowed to own lions in Wisconsin.

Wyoming: Lions are banned in Wyoming.

As you can see, there are only a few states where you can own a lion without any restrictions. Rest need either permit, or they’re banned completely.

Many states used to have more permissive rules, but this has changed a lot in the last 15 years. Mostly to protect these exotic animals and the various tragedies that were happening.

Can you have a lion as a pet in the UK?

You can have a lion as a pet in the United Kingdom, but you need to have a license for each pet. Your local council grants these licenses.

You can apply for this license here.

Can a lion be a pet in India?

It’s illegal to own a lion as a pet in India because of The Wild Life (protection) Act 1972. You can even end up imprisonment for that. The only exception is that you own a certificate of ownership for a lion.


Can you have a lion as a pet? Yes, and now. It depends on where you live and your local laws. In the United States, it varies state by state. Usually, you need to have a license or permit to own a lion.

However, you should really consider all pros and cons of getting a lion as your pet. It’s not like getting a dog. It’s a big commitment and probably a life-changing decision.

Also, no matter what bond you have with the lion or how much they are lovely and cute, you’re not 100% safe. It’s still a wildcat with a hunter’s instincts, and you can quickly become a prey.


Image credits – Canva

[1] Detailed Discussion of Exotic Pet Laws

[2] Regulations Concerning the Private Possession of Big Cats: Comparative Analysis

[3] The Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972

[4] The Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 (Modification) (No.2) Order 2007

Share on:

I'm David, and safari has been my passion since I was a little boy - I grew up in South Africa. I love to help spread knowledge about safari, so let me know if you have any questions. Read more