In Life of Pi, which animals do lion trainers choose to have in their performance?
In circuses and other environment where lions are trained by humans, the trainers must always be in a position of total authority and total control. In other words, the tamers are the alpha males of the group. Pi explains the various ways this dominance is expressed: the lions are released into an unknown environment in which the human is already present. It is important that the human enter the area in full view of the lions, for this is an indication that the human has taken control of the ring – it is his territory. The tamer must then exhibit a very strange sort of roar – a whip or a whistle, something loud and unfamiliar to the lions – he must display a steady gaze, a confident step – the whole routine is psychological, “a question of brain over brawn.”
Once a tamer has established his dominance, it then follows that the most obedient lions – the ones most amenable to the tamer’s orders, the ones most eager to learn and perform – are those lions of the lowest social rank, the omegas. As Pi explains, these individuals “have the most to gain from the relationship with the super-alpha trainer.” The closer these subordinate animals are with the leader of the pride, the more protection they are offered from said alpha. These omega animals are most willing to perform in order to be in good standing in the leader’s eyes. They are the lickspittles of the animal world, so to speak. So the trainer works with these least powerful animals, while “the beta and gamma lions, more cantankerous subordinates, [are left] sitting on their colourful barrels on the edge of the ring.”