How Much Does A Lion Cost? | Keeping Big Cats

Lions are magnificent mammals loved by many and are portrayed as courageous, powerful, and majestic beasts through movies such as The Lion King, The Wizard of Oz, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

Have you ever wondered how much it costs to own a lion? Spoiler, it’s a lot! The majority of animal lovers keep common pets such as dogs, cats, rabbits, fish, and budgies. However, some people like to stray from the norm and keep slightly unusual pets, including snakes, lizards, spiders, and yes, even lions. 

Keeping big cats, such as lions, in captivity is challenging and costly. This article will break down the costs of buying and caring for lions.

A Lion
Male lion sleeping on the plains of South Africa
Credit: Caitlin Watson

The Cost of Buying A Lion

On average, a male, adult lion can cost anywhere between $5,000 and $15,000. Female lions cost around the same, although are usually slightly less than the males. Lion cubs range from $1,500 to $15,000. 

The white lion is the rarest and most expensive breed of lion in the world. Their coloration is caused by a recessive gene mutation. A white lion cub will easily exceed $140,000. However, as they are social animals, they should be reared as a pair, which means double the cost from anywhere between $280,000 and $350,000. 

Buying Other Big Cats

Lions are not the only big cats that can be purchased. There is a relatively large number of big cat breeds across the world, all of which vary greatly in price but nonetheless rack up a handsome prince. 

Bobcats are the ‘cheapest’ exotic cats to own, costing on average $900. Medium-sized cats such as servals and caracals cost around $1,700 to $2,800. Ocelots can reach prices as high as $15,000. Panthers range from $900 to $2,500. Surprisingly, tiger cubs can be bought for as little as $900 but may cost up to $7,500 depending on the age and breed. 

Cheetahs are recognized as a status symbol for the wealthy. Females are more expensive than males and they can cost upwards of $20,000. The lynx, leopard, and cougar are among the other exotic cats that can be purchased for a large sum. 

pet cheetah
Security guards pose with a pet cheetah bought into the White House in 2009
Credit: The White House by CC: 1.0

Cost of Raising and Keeping Big Cats

If the price alone of buying a big cat was not enough, there are further expenses required regarding raising and keeping these animals. 

Veterinarian Bills

Veterinarian visits can cost up to $20,000 per visit. Vets experienced with big cats are few and far between. A steel squeeze cage is required to confine your big cat which can cost between $1,250 and $20,000 depending on the size of the cage. 

Transporting your big cat to the vet is another additional cost as it requires some type of reliable vehicle. Otherwise, a veterinarian may travel to where the big cat is being kept, but a form of confinement for examination is still needed. 

Annual shots without any emergency vet care will be around $127 to $250. Like domestic house cats, these large mammals require worming and flea prevention when kept in captivity. 

Feeding Costs

It is no secret that big cats require a lot of feeding, and a constant supply of meat is a recurring cost. Substantial food and vitamins for a medium-sized exotic cat may cost around $7,500 per year. For larger cats, this cost may be up to $10,000 per year. 

Big cats are obligate carnivores and generally require 15 pounds of meat per day. In the wild, one large meal a day is suitable for big cats. Having this amount of meat must be safely stored and fed to your big cat daily. 


Stimulation and enrichment are incredibly important for captive cats as it adds to their quality of life. There are a number of different enrichment techniques that can be implemented for a fairly reasonable price. 

Novel food items, objects, and smells can be introduced to your big cat’s habitat. The presentation of new things can help reduce boredom, encourage natural inquisitive behaviors, and improve the overall welfare of these mammals. 

Captive cats can never be returned to the wild, as they lack key survival skills, and do not fear humans. As such, their life in captivity should be made as enjoyable as possible. 

Exercise Requirements

In states where housing big cats are legal, the requirements for housing vary. At least 5 acres of land is often required to ensure enough room for your big cat to exercise, but of course, the more land acquired the better. An acre of land can range between $10,000 to $100,000. 

Strong, sturdy, and high fencing is required to keep your cat enclosed, as well as a roof to prevent potential escapes. In the wild, these animals have the ability to roam the vast plains (even though they spend most of their time sleeping), hence enclosures should be as large as possible. 

Captive male lion
Captive male lion in an enclosure
Credit: International Fund for Animal Welfare by CC: 4.0

Life Expectancy of a Big Cat in Captivity

The life expectancy of big cats in captivity compared to those in the wild is significantly different. On average, captive lions live to 25 years of age, whereas wild lions have a life expectancy of just 12 to 16 years. 

This higher lifespan is due to the care and protection captive individuals receive. When wild lions become too old or weak to hunt, they will starve to death, but captive individuals are fed, meaning they don’t have to hunt for their food. 

When wild individuals become ill, they may succumb to their illness. However, captive individuals will receive all the medical care and treatment they need. 

A big cat behind bars is also safe from potential predators. Although big cats such as lions are apex predators, vulnerable individuals may be targeted in the wild. Cubs and males are often killed in fights for dominance. Captive cats are protected from such occurrences.  

Set-Up Costs

Prior to purchasing a big cat, there are numerous set-up costs regarding where the animal will be housed.

Shelter, Housing and Protection

Enclosure fencing must be strong enough to withstand the weight of the big cats. Generally, fences should be at least 3.5m high with an overhang to prevent them from jumping out. Bedding is not required but a wooden sleeping platform should be issued. 

Shades and areas that can protect against the elements should be implemented. If temperatures drop below 10oC, a heat lamp should also be provided. Typically, enclosures should mimic the big cat’s natural habitat as closely as possible. 

Outdoor Space

For a single cat, an enclosure should be a minimum of 37m2. Additionally, these predators are highly territorial, so if more than one individual is being housed in the same place, it is important that the enclosure is large enough to allow separate territories. 

Although lions spend most of their time sleeping, enclosures must still be big enough to allow sufficient exercise. 

Feeding Station and Water Supply

A constant supply of fresh drinking water must be provided at all times. Usually, this is in the form of a large pool, which must be regularly cleaned and maintained. 

Although wild cats will hunt and kill prey, the feeding of live vertebrate prey is prohibited. Whole prey carcasses should be fed and can be placed in varying locations in the enclosure, providing the cat with the challenge of finding the prey. Feeding stations are often used as a safe way to get the carcass or meat chunks into the enclosure. 

Verdict: How Much Does A Lion Cost

Overall, it costs an excessive amount of money to own a lion. From set-up costs to buying the animal itself to recurring expenses, you can expect to invest millions of dollars into owning a lion. 

Do You Need a Licence to Buy a Lion?

The average person cannot go out and purchase a lion. A license is required, which is a costly item in itself. Liability insurance is also needed, and permits must be kept up to date. 

Why Keeping a Lion as a Pet is Not a Great Idea

Strictly speaking, lions are wild animals that can never be truly tamed or domesticated. They are not a tourist attraction nor a form of entertainment and should be treated with caution and respect. 

Nonetheless, some people do keep lions as pets. The most common lions in captivity, however, are those in zoos or animal sanctuaries. 

Although it may seem “cool” to own a pet lion, it is very costly, hard work, and is regarded by many as “cruel” to keep such a magnificent wild beast captive. 

FAQ Cost of Buying Big Cats