by James A. Peden
"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
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.
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.
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
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 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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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, aberation 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.
Online source: http://www.newveg.av.org/vegetarianlioness.htm