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Little Tyke: True Story of a Gentle Vegetarian Lioness

Little Tyke turning away her head from meat (and wincing).

At four years old, the mature African lioness weighed 352 pounds. Her body stretched 10 feet 4 inches long and could run 40 miles per hour. Her skull, highly adapted to killing and eating prey, possessed short powerful jaws. Normally, African lions eat gnus, zebras, gazelles, impalas, and giraffes. This particular big cat, in her prime and perfect health, chose a more gentle way of life, vegetarian!

A Violent Birth

Georges and Margaret Westbeau, standing outside the thick steel bars of the cage, watched nervously. Inside, a vicious, raging beast baring razor claws and glistening fangs, roared. Flinging herself at the couple, who watched from barely three feet away, her suffering amber eyes defied their presence.

Always, in the past, this lioness destroyed her offspring as soon as they were born. Four times in the last seven years, her powerful jaws had crushed her newborn cubs, furiously throwing them against her cage's bars where they tumbled, lifeless.

Denying the normal instincts of motherhood, what possessed this lioness? Her life mocked its former freedom. She lived a caged animal, taken from the wild and tortured by those who captured her. Did she feel that by destroying her cubs they would be spared the humiliation that she endured?

Suddenly, the newborn cub came flying towards the people anxiously watching. Georges quickly grabbed the cub through the bars before it could be killed. Its right front leg dangled helplessly from its mother's brutal jaws. In the face of such fury the only thing the human could say was, 'You poor little tike'.

The Westbeaus took the three-pound 'Little Tyke' to their Hidden Valley Ranch near Seattle and there it joined the menagerie of other animals including horses, cattle, and chickens. Curious peacocks lined the housetop, kittens peered through a picket fence, and two terriers danced with joy for the new addition to the household. Drinking bottles of warm milk, Little Tyke began the long road to recovery.

Mysterious Reaction

With the advice of experts the Westbeaus began weaning Little Tyke onto solid food at three months. Leaving only a favorite doll, they removed most of her rubber toys, replacing them with bones from freshly slaughtered beef. They carried the small cub to the bones. Unexpectedly, she violently threw up!

Experts told them in no uncertain terms that lions couldn't live without meat. In the wild, lions ate only flesh - eleven pounds a day for an adult female. Alarmed at Little Tyke's strange behavior, they wondered at how they could introduce meat into her diet? In the meantime, they continued feeding Little Tyke baby cereal mixed with milk.

A well meaning friend suggested mixing beef blood with milk, in increasing proportions. Given milk containing ten drops of blood, Little Tyke would have nothing to do with it. They mixed in five drops of blood, and hid that bottle. As she sucked on the plain milk they quickly switched bottles. Again she refused it. In desperation they added *one* drop of blood to a full bottle of milk, but Little Tyke refused this bottle as well, and they could only stare in amazement.

Another friend suggested putting plain milk in one hand, and milk mixed with hamburger in the palm of the other hand. Little Tyke readily licked the milk from one hand, but when Georges changed hands, she immediately turned away. Sensing her distress, Georges wiped his hands on a nearby towel and picked her up. Hissing in fear and cringing away, she looked sick from the danger-smell of meat on his hand. She only settled down when given a fresh bottle of milk held in washed hands.

Thousand-dollar Reward

At nine months old and weighing sixty-five pounds, Little Tyke had the splints and bandages on her leg taken off for the last time. She slowly learned to depend on the healed leg, and mingled with other animals on the ranch.

Since the ranch didn't earn enough income to make ends meet, the Westbeaus ran a small cold storage plant in town. Little Tyke came with them when they went to work and word got around about this vegetarian lioness. When she was four years old, the Westbeaus advertised a thousand dollar reward for anyone who could devise a method tricking Little Tyke into eating meat. Numerous plans met with failure since Little Tyke refused to have anything to do with flesh.

The Answer

The caretakers of this gentle animal sought out animal experts, always asking them about diet. Finally, one young visitor set their mind at ease. With serious eyes he turned to them and asked, 'Don't you read your Bible? Read Genisis 1:30, and you will get your answer.' At his first opportunity Georges read in astonishment, '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.' At that point, after four years, the Westbeaus finally stopped worrying.

Little Tyke's meals

A typical meal consisted of various grains, chosen for their protein, calcium, fats, and roughage. Margaret always cooked a few days' supply ahead of time. At feeding time, a double handful of the cooked grains along with one-half gallon of milk with two eggs, supplied Little Tyke a delicious meal. She had one condition before eating. Her favorite rubber doll had to be right next to her!

For teeth and gums, the Westbeaus supplied rubber boots, since she refused bones. They attracted her to the boots by sprinkling them with perfume. One boot lasted almost a month.

Little Tyke had many close animal friends. Her favorites were Pinky (a kitten), Imp (another kitten), Becky (a lamb) and Baby (a fawn). Her favorite and closest friend, however, was Becky, who preferred Little Tyke's company to any of the other animals.

National Publicity

You Asked For It, the popular television show hosted by Art Baker, once featured Little Tyke. The producers wanted a scene with chickens, which didn't bother Georges since Little Tyke roamed easily among chickens at Hidden Valley Ranch. When the film crew brought the chickens in, they turned out to be four little day-old chicks!

Slurp of the tongue

Little Tyke's only previous experience with new chicks had been with a hen and her chicks who had wandered onto the lawns around their home on the ranch. Georges thought nothing of it until he saw Little Tyke acting peculiarly, slinking into the house, and looking guilty with lips tightly closed over obviously open jaws. He called 'Tyke! What have you got?' Instantly her mouth opened and a little chick popped out, unharmed. Flapping it's little down-covered wings, it almost flew back to its upset mother. Apparently Little Tyke had affectionately licked the tiny chick, as she was prone to do when, with one huge slurp of the tongue, the little chick had popped into her mouth, and she hadn't known how to fondle it further!

With the amazed camera crew filming, Little Tyke strode over to the chicks, hesitated long enough to lick the chicks *carefully* and *gently* with the very *tip* of her tongue, and moved away with a yawn. A moment later she came back to lie down among the chicks. They immediately made their way into the long silky hair at the base of her great neck where they peered out from the shelter of their great protector. Another scene saw a new kitten, after an introduction, walk over to Little Tyke's huge foreleg and sit down. Little Tyke crooked one paw around the tiny creature and cuddled it closer.

In front of cameras, Art Baker picked up the Bible and read: 'The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock.' Mail poured into the producers, making this episode one of the most popular in the show's history.

Little Tyke's Death

Unfortunately, while spending three weeks in Hollywood for the show, Little Tyke contracted virus pneumonia, a disease that took her life a few weeks later. The sudden change in climate may have been a contributing factor. She succumbed quietly in her sleep, retiring early after watching television.

Inspiring to this Day

Her life is over, but her teachings live on. Of the many lessons she taught, not the least is that love removes fear and savagery. Little Tyke reflected the love and care shown to her after the first few moments of her precarious birth.

Thousands saw photographs of her lying with her lamb friend, Becky, inspiring many to see the world a fresh way: two such diverse natures enjoying each other's love! One eminent attorney kept a huge enlargement of this photograph in his office, and pointed to it as he counciled couples on the verge of divorce.

Scientific Dilemma

Science is at a loss when it comes to Little Tyke. Felines are the strictest of carnivores. Without flesh she should have developed blindness, as well as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a degenerative disease that turns heart muscles flabby and limits their ability to pump blood. This is because her diet didn't contain an adequate source of the amino acid, taurine.

Little known in the 1950's, subsequent research at UC Davis in 1976 proved that taurine is an essential nutrient for felines, the lack of which would cause degeneration of the retina. later research implicated inadequate taurine levels in dilated cardiomyopathy as well. For cats with DCM, if the disease has not progressed too far, administering taurine causes an almost miraculous recovery. Formerly, cats lived only a few days to weeks after diagnose.

Taurine is non-existent in natural non-animal sources. It is present in minute amounts in milk and eggs. Little Tyke could have gotten her taurine requirement from milk, if she drank 500 gallons per day, or from eggs, if she ate more than 4000 per day. How *did* Little Tyke get taurine?

Perhaps even more important, why did Little Tyke disown her species' instincts? Little Tyke is a curiosity to the public, aberration to zoologists, anomaly to scientists, and an inspiration to idealists."

There's a picture in the book of Little Tyke turning away her head from meat (and wincing). There's also a book about Little Tyke, appropriately titled "Little Tyke" by Georges Westbeau.

thus seeming to fulfill the Biblical prophecy "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them." (Isaiah 11:6).

To condition her stomach, Little Tyke would spend an hour at a time eating the tall grass in the fields--another striking reminder of the prophecies of Isaiah 11:7 and 65:25, "� the lion will eat straw like the ox."

Little Tyke had an exceptionally gentle and loving nature, and all animal farms came to be petted by her without any fear.

Little Tyke's story started to spread in the Great Depression-ravaged America, giving spiritual hope and renewed faith to people from all walks of life. She was taken on tour to be shown to a public desperately hungry for love and innocence.


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 nature - but 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 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.

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."

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