The lion that wouldn’t eat meat
From 1946 to 1955, A female African lion, born and raised in America, lived her entire lifetime of nine years without ever eating meat.1 In fact, her owners, Georges and Margaret Westbeau,2 alarmed by scientists’ reports that carnivorous animals cannot live without meat, went to great lengths to try to coax their unusual pet (‘Little Tyke’) to develop a taste for it. They even advertised a cash reward for anyone who could devise a meat-containing formula that the lioness would like. The curator of a New York zoo advised the Westbeaus that putting a few drops of blood in Little Tyke’s milk bottle would help in weaning her, but the lioness cub refused to touch it—even when only a single drop of blood had been added.
The more knowledgeable animal experts among the many visitors to the Westbeaus’ 100 acre (40 hectare) ranch also proffered advice, but nothing worked. Meanwhile, Little Tyke continued to do extremely well on a daily diet of cooked grain, raw eggs and milk. By four years of age she was fully grown and weighed 352 pounds (160 kg).
As Georges Westbeau writes, it was ‘a young visitor’ to Hidden Valley ranch who finally put his mind at ease in response to the question of how Little Tyke could be persuaded to eat meat (thought to be essential for carnivores to survive):
‘He 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.’ At my first opportunity I got my Bible and turned to the passage he had indicated. 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.’
The owners of Little Tyke, though apparently not Christians, were so reassured by this that they no longer worried about her refusal to eat meat, and turned their attention instead to refining her ‘vegetarian’3 diet further, learning of new grains to add to the lioness’s food. These numerous grains were ground and stirred together while in the dry state, then cooked and mixed with the milk and eggs. The lioness was fed this mixture each morning and evening, and sometimes at midday as well. (To condition her teeth and gums—as she steadfastly refused all offers of bones to gnaw—Little Tyke was given heavy rubber boots to chew on, which generally lasted about three weeks.) The lioness not only survived on this diet, she thrived. One of America’s ‘most able zoo curators’ apparently said that the lioness ‘was the best of her species he had ever viewed.’
As well as Little Tyke, the Westbeaus cared for a menagerie of other animals at their ranch. A large number of the many visitors to Hidden Valley were motivated by the prospect of seeing ‘the lion that lives with the lamb’—a situation similar to the prophecies of Isaiah 11:6. The sight of the lioness living placidly alongside sheep, cattle, and peafowl made a profound impression on many visitors. Television footage4 and newspaper photos of Little Tyke also moved many people, such as one who wrote, ‘Nothing has made me happier than your picture of the lion and the lamb. It has helped me believe in the Bible.’
In the light of Little Tyke’s situation, along with anecdotes of other carnivorous animals surviving on vegetarian diets,5 it is certainly easier to relate to the Genesis account of animals living solely on plants before Adam’s Fall.6
Mr Westbeau’s observation of the lioness that ‘To condition her stomach she would spend an hour at a time eating the succulent tall grass in the fields’, is also a vivid reminder of the prophecies of Isaiah 11:7 and 65:25, ‘ … the lion will eat straw like the ox.’
References and notes
- Westbeau, G., Little Tyke: the story of a gentle vegetarian lioness, Theosophical Publishing House, IL, USA, 1986. (Information is drawn from pp. 3–6, 17, 32–35, 59–60, 113–114.) Return to text.
- The lioness had been given to the Westbeaus as a badly mauled one-day-old cub, by the zoo where her mother was kept. The mother had killed all cubs from her four earlier pregnancies immediately after birth. This time though, anxious zoo attendants were standing by, ready to scramble to rescue the offspring at the moment of delivery. With ‘Little Tyke’ they succeeded—but not before the mother’s quick and powerful jaws had injured the cub’s right front leg. Return to text.
- Many people would include eggs in ‘vegetarian’ diets today, if unfertilised, as no killing of animals is involved. Though it seems unlikely that eggs (or milk for adult animals) were part of the pre-Fall diet, the point to note here is that lions do not need meat to survive. Many plants are now extinct; it is highly likely that there were very rich protein sources in the pre-Fall / pre-Flood plant kingdom. Return to text.
- Sadly, while in Hollywood for filming of a nation-wide television broadcast, Little Tyke contracted pneumonia, and she died a few weeks later. Return to text.
- While living in Indonesia in the 1980s, several families told me that they never fed meat to their pet dogs—though it is possible that bones might have been present in the scraps fed to them. Other reports suggest that this is a widespread phenomenon in that country. Return to text.
- The Bible does not give us details of how the change from plant-eating to meat-eating has occurred after the Fall; one possibility is by divine ‘redesign’. Hence, even if lions today did need meat to survive, it would not invalidate Genesis. See Creation Ministries’ The Creation Answers Book for a fuller discussion. Return to text.