THE LION WHO LAY DOWN WITH THE
The True Story Of A Vegetarian Lion
Once upon a time, in 20th century America, there lived a lion who refused to be
violent. Those who cared for her tried to train her to behave in a way they thought was
dictated by naturebut she refused. Instead, she taught her keepers that man's idea
of what constitutes "natural" animal behavior, is not necessarily what God
created the animals to be.
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 Washington, 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 canand shouldbe 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 Washington, 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 creatureseven 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