The True Story of A Vegetarian Lion
The Prophet Isaiah told of a millennial world in which the “lion would lay down with the lamb.” For most people this is a promise so improbable it seems as if the very nature of animals must undergo a drastic change before that prophecy can be fulfilled. It seems they must metamorphose into different creatures; that although their outward appearance may remain the same, their inner structure must somehow be altered. Because, ultimately, we believe that biology is destiny.But the story of Little Tyke, a lioness who lived at Hidden Valley Ranch in California, gives evidence to the contrary.
Born to a mother who had been caught in the wild and imprisoned in a zoo-cell for many years, it seemed unlikely that Tyke would survive her birth. Impregnated five times in seven years, the fierce mother had destroyed each of her previous cubs before zoo-keepers could get near her. This behavior only added to the mother’s reputation as a particularly ferocious animal: a born-killer. Yet in the wild, lions have been observed wailing in agony over a still-born cub. Perhaps this “killer” lion destroyed her cubs to prevent them from having to live out the horror of her own existence. She could not prevent her captors from having her impregnated, but she could thwart their plans to imprison her offspring.
But although the mother managed to badly maul the new cub, Little Tyke was rescued from her and sent to Hidden Valley Ranch. She lived there with Georges and Margaret Westbeau for the rest of her life.
During that time she taught the Westbeaus, and the thousands who came in contact with her, that much of what we believe about the nature of animals is the result of the way in which we have treated them. Animals have learned to fear, dread and attack the human beings who torture, imprison and kill them– without compunction or remorse for the enormous amount of pain and suffering they inflict on God’s other creatures.
But at Hidden Valley Ranch, Little Tyke was raised with great love and kindness. The story of her life was later chronicled by Georges Westbeau, in a book he wrote about the gentle lioness. (Information about where to purchase this book is provided at the end of this article.)
The numerous photos in his book show Little Tyke living with lambs, dogs, cats, chickens and deer, in happy companionship. And the stories that Westbeau relates about life on the Ranch make fascinating reading. But beyond the fascination and wonder of this narrative is the deeper sense of the “rightness” that the peacefulness and nonviolence at Hidden Valley Ranch evokes. It is a sense that the relationship between humans and animals can—and should—be different than it is.
But in order for this to happen, men and women must alter their behavior: it is the savagery of the human heart that must change. We do not have to wait until God changes “savage” animals into different kinds of beings in order for them to live in peace and harmony with mankind. And nothing in Westbeau’s book makes this clearer than the report of Tyke’s lifelong insistence on a vegetarian diet.
It was an insistence that her caretakers tried to overcome for four years. Convinced by scientific findings that the lion would die if she did not eat meat, the Westbeaus tried every possible subterfuge in order to get her to become a carnivore. But Tyke would not. And in spite of the fact that science had declared a lion’s system was programmed to eat flesh, and would die without it, Little Tyke lived on.
Not only did she survive, she thrived on her vegetarian diet, becoming as healthy a lion specimen as anyone had ever seen. Still, it took four years for the Westbeau’s to stop trying to find ways to get her to become a flesh-eating creature. And, eventually, it was a quote from the Bible that put their mind at rest about Tyke’s health and her diet.
It came about after yet another expert had been asked if he knew of some formula which contained meat, that the lion might be persuaded to eat. Westbeau writes that the man he spoke to “turned to look at me with serious eyes, then asked ‘Don’t you read your Bible?’ I admitted I didn’t read it as much as I probably should. He continued, “Read Genesis 1:30 and you will get your answer.”
The author goes on to tell how he looked up this verse of scripture and “to my astonishment I read these words ‘And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to everything that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat:and it was so.’” After this, Georges reports, “we didn’t worry anymore about Little Tyke’s diet.”
In spite of the belief that biology is destiny and that animals, in particular, behave on the basis of instincts which cannot be altered (except, perhaps, genetically) the life of Little Tyke challenges these scientific “facts.” And the same chapter of Genesis which allowed the Westbeaus to accept Tyke’s vegetarianism also reports that both humans and nonhumans were created to be nonviolent. It tells how God breathed the breath of life into them and later pronounced all creatures to be reflections of the goodness and love in which they had been created. “And God saw every thing that he had made and, behold, it was very good.”
But for the most part, even “believers” ignore the scriptural explanation of the nature of creation and choose to believe the scientific explanation that violence is programmed into humans as well as animals. This is a convenient belief. It means there is nothing that we who live in the present time can do to help prepare the way for a millennial world. After all, until God changes ferocious creatures into nonviolent beings, there can be no Peaceable Kingdom.
But in twentieth century America, at Hidden Valley Ranch in California, there was a place in which love and compassion ruled, and because of that, the lion did lay down with the lamb. And with a host of other creatures—even that most dangerous species of all: homo sapiens.
Little Tyke is available from the Theosophical Publishing House, 306 West Geneva Road, Wheaton Illinois, 60189. Cost: $5.95 plus $2.50 postage.
Reprinted from the March/April 1996 issue of Humane Religion. Copyright 1996 by Viatoris Ministries.