Sunday, 26 May 2013

The Most Unkindest Cut of All ..

 The Gir Lion , KING OF BEASTS .. 


  About the book  '' EXOTIC ALIENS'',Lion and Cheetah in India. :

   I happened to see Sanctuary magazine April 2013 edition,vol xxxiii.The editor Mr.Bittu Sahgal has made a valiant effort to glorify a book entitled',' Exotic Aliens'',by Mr.Valmik Thapar, Romila Thapar.and Mr.Yusuf Ansari.Recent developments add a new  dimension to the Thapar  book entitled 'Exotic Aliens'.This book has the potential to influence decision making with regard to wild life management as well as to seriously lower the image of Indian Wildlife in the eyes of the average Indian citizen which is unfortunate and fraught with serious implications for the future of our precious,endangered wild life. The excerpts from that book given in the Sanctuary magazine is quite sufficient to understand that the book,however ingeniously written , is based on inconclusive and incomplete information .
    As a genuine nature lover,I feel duty bound to explore the truth about the Gir lion and the Indian cheetah about which this book presents a misleading picture based on unintelligent deductions and inaccurate observations.


     Valmik Thapar says the Gir lion is an exotic alien brought in by Indian Maharajas..Let us analyze his observations and see if there is any justification for this.

It is true that Asiatic Lions came from Africa.But all available evidence indicates that apart from a handful of specimens,the vast majority of them came on foot by themselves ,not in one but several waves of natural migration.,and not as an exotic alien introduced by Indian Maharajas.DNA studies indicate that the Asiatic and African lions separated nearly 100000 years ago( Stephen O'Brien).And Indian Maharajas didn't exist at that time.While all extant species of lions are descended from the sub-Saharan lions,it does seem that the Gir lion has it's roots in the Barbary lion population (which existed in the North Saharan region--Morocco,Tunisia and Algeria) which appears to have migrated when the hitherto cold habitat where they lived became hot around 5000 years BC due to the tilting of the Earth's axis.Possibly this migrating lion population reached India during the post-Harappan period to supplement the pre-existing lion population of the North-Western desert regions of India.Lion and tiger migrations do not occur in a fortnight ,but rather gradually and cannot be compared with the spectacular annual animal migrations of Masai-Mara.

Fossil Evidences :

The Fossil deposits of the Siwalik hills indicate that not only lions and cheetahs,but also giraffes,Hippos,Zebras ,Baboons,Chimpanzees and ostriches existed in India during the Tertiary period,(Indian Maharajas did not exist at that time either) proving the strong pre-historic zoo-geographical link between India and Africa and the former glory of our wildlife..Anyway India and Africa were part of one land mass--Gondwana ,and it is natural that this strong prehistoric link should cast it's shadows in to the present., The Shiwalik fossils indicate that an animal very similar if not identical to the modern cheetah existed in India as early as the Tertiary Period.(This could well mean that even the evolution of the cheetah could be traced to India.Anyway,the name'' cheetah''most certainly originated in India.This term refers to the cheetah's spots and not it's hunting prowess which attracted the Maharajas.)The survival of a few of these species up to the present cannot be attributed to massive animal cargoes shipped to India From Africa by our rulers.Such massive capture and intercontinental translocation programmes would not have been possible in those days when tranquiliser guns and air transport were unknown.And it is not possible even today.
India was part of Gondwana and was therefore continuous with South America,Africa,Australia,Madagascar and the Malayan peninsula and Indonesia and hence inherited zoological precursors of the wildlife of all those regions.
    As the climate changed,many species perished,but some survived in remnant habitats.For instance the European species such as the weasel,martens,fox,brown bear etc survived on the Himalayas.The Indo-Malayan species survived in the rain forests of the Western ghats and the Northeast,while desert species survived in the Western Arid zones and so on.The Thapar theory based mainly on Irrational guesswork has inevitably culminated in an intellectul mess.Ignoring the obvious  while hunting only for favorable proof to propagate a sensational theory has inevitably led to grossly erroneous conclusions.
I can enumerate just a few of these grave errors in the book"Exotic Aliens".


Bittu Sahgal says.''.Mr.Thapar was curious about there being so little literature about wild lions..''-
     This is wrong.There is a good deal of literature about lion hunts in India.
             The memoirs of Babar as well as the Ain Akbari and even the Memoirs of Jehangir  describe lion hunting on the banks of the Indus as well as in the neighourhood of Benares.If we believe that  words of westerners alone is worth quoting,  Sir.Thomas Roe,English representative in the Mughal court describes a lion which entered his camp at Mandu and attacked some sheep.
        During the British Raj ,sportsmen like Colonel Skinner,and Captain Mundy have described several lion hunts in the region we now call Harriana.The Bengal Sporting Magazine of 1883,the Oriental Sporting Magazine, and the India Sporting Review of 1856 give graphic descriptions of lion hunts.These lion hunts were conducted in Harriana, Saharanpur, Ludhiana, Moradabad, Rohilcund, Reylee, Allahabad, Khandesh, Gwalior etc. Hence, Mr.Valmik Thapar's claim that there is so very little literature about wild lions is erroneous..


 Mr.Thapar says ''Lion Imagery flourishes where no lions naturally exist.You do not have to see wild lions to use them as a symbol.''
     Apparently Mr.Thapar has judged the past by extrapolating the present.He has overlooked the fact that the lion once enjoyed a far wider range than it does today.Hence it's tradition remains in areas where it is absent  today.As a rule,people never worship a creature they have never seen in all it's glory ,in it's natural setting (perhaps the sole exception being the Chinese adoration for the Dragon.). Indigenous African tribes do not use the tiger as a totem. Indigenous South American tribes do not worship the lion, tiger,or elephant . Indian ,African or Australian tribes do not adore the jaguar as a symbol.Even the Romans who have seen hundreds of imported lions and tigers still adore the wolf. Asian , European and Arabian people adore the lion because they have seen it's majestic nature first hand.The Sri Lankans glorify the lion because they once lived in lion country and only later migrated to the island nation.All these aspects have been conveniently ignored by Thapar and co.
Human and animal migrations and species extinctions account for the apparent discrepancies on which Thapar and co have based their conclusions.
 For Instance',Lion Imagery' in American Natives might appear inexplicable.But during pleistocene times, the natives of America co-existed with lions.The bones of the extinct American Lion have been discovered in caves inhabited by humans indicating that these ferocious beasts were hunted by men. Although larger than present day African lions,the American lion was slightly smaller than the Sabre-toothed tiger.Both became extinct at the end of the pleistocene period.Their fossil remains have been recovered from the La Brea tar pits.
1) Skeleton Of American Lion in the George C.Page museum  2) Reconstruction of the American lion



Mr.Thapar says''Captain Thomas Oriental Field Sports the 1780's while pig-sticking,one was likely to encounter tigers,but never lions or for that matter cheetahs..''Mr.Thapar goes on to say,''such observations build a case for both animals to be categorized as exotic aliens..''
Apparently Mr.Williamson went pig-sticking in tiger country. Naturally you won't find lions or cheetahs where you find tigers.The lion and the tiger occupy different ecological niches.Lions do not occupy the same terrain as tigers.This does not mean that they are exotic or alien. If ever you find Lion+Cheetah + tiger in the same place, you can be sure that at least one species was introduced.(And that is exactly what is being done in South Africa.Any studied silence on that issue is unpardonable,and will be the most unkindest cut of all.'Introducing' tigers in to Africa is blatant gene piracy, gross violation of IUCN guidelines regarding introduction of alien species, and accusing India of pirating Lions and cheetahs from Africa in the past looks like a pretty  neat coverup.)
   So far we have remained quiet about it because of our concern for Panthera Tigris, whose future in India is in unsafe hands( a fact which has become clearer now than ever before).
The one and only case of real importing of African lions occurred in Gwalior where the King''introduced'' a few African lions in to his forests on the advice of Lord Curzon in 1904.These were soon killed by tigers and those which escaped, strayed into adjacent villages,became a menace to livestock and people and had to be destroyed.This foolhardy experiment should not be used to degrade India's magnificent wildlife as a Khichdi of borrowed species.


Mr.Thapar says'' I reached my conclusions because the numbers of lion and cheetah were never sufficient for them to have been a distinct species''
  Indigenicity of a species is not determined by it's numbers. We can't call the cane toad or the rabbit indigenous to Australia where they occur in millions.We can't call the Burmese python indigenous to the Everglades where it now occurs in sufficient numbers to threaten indigenous species.  The African Thilapia fish can not be called indigenous to our water bodies because it occurs in plague proportions.
  Rarity of a species does not mean it is exotic. We can not  call the Takahe in New Zealand an exotic alien for it's limited numbers.We can not call the kakapo in New Zealand an exotic alien for it's numbers too are limited.We can not call the snow leopard an exotic alien for it never occurs in enormous numbers.We can not call the Tuatara an exotic alien for it's quite rare.Tha rare Californian condor is not  an exotic alien.The Giant Panda of China, the monkey eating eagle of Philippines,the Prezwalski's horse,are all rare but indigenous.
I am surprised that the authors as well as supporters have overlooked all these aspects in their eagerness to condemn the Indian lion and cheetah.
Rarity of a creature over a prolonged period is proof of it's indigenous origin, while abnormal abundance indicates alien nature of a species,(not the other way round).
 In nature, every indigenous species occupies an ecological niche and maintains it's numbers to fill that niche.Any tampering with that niche alters the balance and the animal becomes rarer and rarer and eventually dies out.
Habitat alteration,natural or artificial ,or any large scale killing or trapping produces the same effect,eventually leading to rarity of an indigenous species and it's eventual extinction.This is what happened to the dodo of Mauritius(killed),the passenger pigeon of North America(killed),the Steller's sea cow(killed),to name a few.This is what happened to the Indian Cheetah trapped and domesticated by Mughal Rulers in enormous numbers leading to their extinction in the wild.This extinction became inevitable because cheetahs are hard to breed in captivity.The mass extinctions at the end of the pleistocene epoch was a natural catastrophy.
  While the fate of  an indigenous species is linked to alterations of it's fragile habitat and niche-limited numbers,an introduced species has no such worries.In an environment bereft of natural enemies and number-restricting factors viz nature's checks and balances ,an alien species proliferates in plague proportions.Take the case of the African Snail in India,the Burmese python in Everglades,The African thilapia fish in India,the cane toad and rabbit in Australia and so on and so forth.It is the exotic aliens which multiply profusely.But if introduced into an unfavorable environment with no niche to occupy,the alien dies out promptly.This is what happened to the African lions introduced in to his kingdom by the Gwalior king.
      One thing an exotic alien never does is to survive in limited numbers for prolonged periods as the Gir Lion or the Indian cheetah did.


Romila Thapar says''If there were lions here,why do they not occur on Indus seals?It would seem that there were no lions here during the period of the Harappan cities''.
 ,The presence or absence of an animal in a seal can not be taken as the ultimate proof of it's absence or presence in a geographical area.Even today most of our seals, coins, etc depict the lion, not the tiger.This doesn't mean that the lion is abundant all over India.Nor does it  mean the tiger is absent in India .Somebody might call the tiger'' an exotic alien'' 2000 years from now, after a glance at some of our seals or coins.The absence of the tiger in Asoka's Pillars or Chakras does not mean the tiger was absent in Asoka's vast empire.The presence of the Unicorn in Harappan seals does not mean the Harappan cities were teeming with unicorns.The depiction of lions instead of tigers in our own coins and seals does not mean tigers do not exist here.
               North India is still geologically unstable.
    It must be remembered that North India was a much wetter place in Harappan times compared to the present.It was during post-Harappan times that North India became drier and the Saraswathy river disappeared.And as long as the Indian tectonic plate continues to barge in to the Eurasian plate,the geology and therefore the climate of North India will continue to change,and so will it's zoo-geography. As likely as not the lion entered the region only after the habitat became drier and more suited to it's lifestyle.And as likely as not, the Gir lions might well be descendants of North African lions which were forced to migrate when the climate of the Northern Africa region changed following the tilting of the Earth's axis some 5000 years BC leading to the Sahara becoming inhospitably hotter.And if this second wave of lion migration from Africa began so late,it is quite likely that they reached here in sufficient numbers only during post-Harappan period.(Apart from the Okavango delta,in Africa,dry areas are the ones more likely to harbour lions).
    In passing it may be noted that depiction of the lion is atleast as old as Hinduism.The Rigveda,as the authors themselves have stated,gives the first description of a lion's roar.The author's suggestion that the guys who wrote Rigveda,or his forefathers,probably described the lion's roar after hearing it from somewhere else or from somebody else,is rather unfortunate.It is far more probable that they heard the lion's roar in their own land.The goddess Durga is almost always depicted riding on a lion , or on a tiger, with equal frequency,indicating that both these predators were equally familiar to whoever created the Goddess Durga deity.And in the Dasavatharam myths which form the very basis of Hinduism,the 4th incarnation of Lord Vishnu is Narasimham,half man and half lion.The head is always depicted as that of a lion with it's unmistakable mane.Anyway,the absence of lion in Harappan seals is no proof that thousands of lions were imported from Africa in to India.Far more likely that influx of lions into India on a migratory scale occured after the Harappan period.

Mr.Valmik Thapar refers to the Gir Lions as''the small pride of docile Junagadh lions''and Sahgal adds''Nearly two dozen doctorates have been written about what must surely be the most docile pack of lions in the world.''
  Contrary to Mr.Thapar's claim,Gir lions are no more docile than African lions.Many people have been killed by these lions referred to as docile by Thapar.And contrary to Thapar's claim there are innumerable descriptions of Indian lions fighting back ferociously against hunters.
The following description of a lion hunt in Harriana described in 'The Bengal Sporting Magazine' of 1833 proves whether the Indian lion was docile or otherwise...''he [the lion] was in the plain waiting for us.Immediately on our coming out from the jungle,and when we were still one hundred yards from him,down he came,lashing his sides with his tail,his mane erect,and roaring dreadfully.Everyone of the elephants took to their heels,whereupon the lion returned to his position on a high knoll,from which he overlooked us...The elephants were brought back to the charge and as often driven away in a similar manner...we were obliged to have recourse to the unsportsmanlike plan of picking him off from a distance..'
' The author says this hunt must have taken place before 1830 for by 1831,the lion was,once very numerous in Harriana, but there is not one to be found ''now'[Major Brown].And curiously enough Ignotus wrote in 1830 ,from Kashi in Gujarat, in the Oriental Sporting Magazine ,''Lions are not very scarce now although before this year they have never been known of''.This is a clear indication that lions were in the process of migration at that time and that they came on foot . In 1857 Blyth,the famous naturalist wrote in the India sporting Review'''it is curious that not even a tradition remains of the former existence of that grand and most prominently conspicuous animal in the Harriana territory''. The lion can prove whether he is docile or not only as long as he lives. Hunting records of the 1800's describe several instances of the Indian lions ferociously fighting  against hunters.Contrary to the author's claim all evidences prove that Gir lions are just as ferocious as their African cousins..


 Thapar and co writes,''References to the roar of the lion go back to the Rigveda,second millennium B.C.The composers of the hymns or their fore fathers 'could have' met the lion or heard about it from the adjoining Oxus valley.''
  This clearly proves (1)that the lion was well known in ancient India(2).The phrase''could have'',indicates optimistic guess.This can not be taken as scientific data. They have raised the possibility that the composers of RigVeda might have heard about the lion from the Oxus valley.But they have overlooked the far more obvious possibility that they might have heard the lion roaring in India itself!
 Recently the remains of a great ancient civilization was discovered under the sea off the coast of Gujarat which is believed to be Dwaraka,the lost kingdom of Lord Krishna[Graham Hancock,Flooded kingdoms of the Ice Age.}
Carbon dating of the artefacts recovered from there indicate that they were made 9500 years back while Dwaraka appears to have disappeared under the sea 6900 years back.The Mahabharatha describes that Prasenan,brother of Sathrajith,an inhabitant of Dwaraka,was killed by a lion in the forests near Dwaraka,where he had gone hunting.Dwaraka being very close to Gujarat,it may be assumed that Prasenan was killed by a lion in a forest near Gujarat.This indicates that lions were not unknown to the writer of Mahabharatha who was fully aware of their ferocity.
      The ancient Panchathanthra stories very clearly and unmistakably depict the lion in all it's vain glory in more than one story.


Mr.Thapar has quoted From Stephen J O'Brien--''The physical traits in Asian lions are manifestations of extremely severe inbreeding in their very recent past....the bottleneck that compromised the Gir lion's genetic variation dated back not just one century but three millennia.''
  A later study indicated that the Gir lion's genetic traits are reasonably stable. Stephen O'Brien  has  used the phrase'3 millennia' 'when referring to the Gir lion.According to him,the Asian and African lions separated atleast 100000 years back.And at that time there were no Maharajas in India to artificially introduce exotic aliens.Inbreeding is a problem which has affected not just the Gir lion,but also the AFRICAN cheetah as well. All cheetahs now living in Africa are closely related genetically.All  European bisons in existence today were descended from a handful of individuals,genetically replenished with American bison genes.All Prezwalski's  horses living today were descended from a handful of individuals,and the same goes for the Pere David's deer. So genetic bottle neck cannot be treated as a problem entirely confined to Gir lions.
     Sanctuary magazine Vol xxxiii(page 29) has given a photograph of a magnificent African lion alongside a mangy emaciated Gir lion as proof of the claim that Gir lions are a miserably inbred version of the African lion.These  photographs are highly misleading.It gives the false impression to readers that the Gir lion is just a miserable replica of the African lion.The Gir lion  shown in this photograph seems to be a old lion driven out of the pride by younger lions and at the end of it's reign. There are better lions left in Gir than the one shown in this picture.And there are mangier lions in Africa than the most mangiest Gir lion..Tsavo lions are among the largest in Africa.
     Well ,here is a picture of a full grown healthy male Tsavo lion from Africa.(Tsavo type mane,very scanty and patchy)

 And here is a picture of a Gir lion.(Gir type of mane confined to neck, sparing the ears,with abdominal fringe)

 This is a Kenyan lion.(Kenyan type of mane extending up to shoulders)
 Barbary lion (rather lion with Barbary type of mane extending to abdomen)
Physical characteristics of lions ,especially the extent of mane growth, vary with the habitat they live in.The Barbary lion had a mane extending all the way to it's abdomen to protect it from the cold climate in which it lived,before the North African region's climate became hot around 5000 years BC.The Savannah lion (Kenyan lion) had a smaller mane than the Barbary,but could still afford to have a large impressive mane which was not such a disadvantage in the open savannah of Africa.Nevertheless the large mane meant that this animal had to guard against overheating by reducing exertion.Savannah males rarely take part in diurnal hunts except when absolutely necessary and spent most of their time in the shade unlike male Gir lions which readily take part in hunts.The Gir lion developed a mane smaller than the Savannah lion and the mane is confined to the area behind the ears,to facilitate good hearing,since the woodland habitat of Gir necessitates hunting by sound as well as sight (unlike the open savannah where sight-hunting alone is needed enabling the Kenyan lion to cover it's ears with mane hair.).The Tsavo lions of Africa live in dry desert conditions where survival depends on heat protection and they have almost discarded their manes.This does not mean that a lion without a mane is inferior to a lion with a huge mane.In fact many Tsavo male lions are huge,bigger than Savannah lions and are considered hyper males.

       That the size and extent of mane growth is an adaptation to climate and environment is evidenced by the fact that Gir lions in cold temperate climates develop spectacular mane growth,almost equalling Barbary lions.

    Following is a picture of a  Gir Lion in Bristol Zoo showing Barbary type mane growth.                  

Hence the claim that the physical characteristics pf Gir lions are the result of severe  inbreeding is not true. .All extant species of lions are descended from sub-Saharan African lions and hence their physical characteristics overlap.But modifications due to regional factors are quite conspicuous in each type. 


 On page 26,Sanctuary Magazine vol xxxiii page 26 ,there is a quote : '' The British and Belgians symbolised their empires by a lion,but in the fossil record ,any sign of lions in Europe stops well before human beings evolved'--Ruth Padel'.
  I don't understand what the author means by this phrase. The human population of Europe co-existed with lions ( Cave Lions) all the way to the end of the pleistocene period when the cave lion became extinct.Not only did they co-exist,they even depicted cave lions in their rock paintings.
A modern artist's depiction of cave lion                   Cave Lion skeleton

Prehistoric cave lion paintings

Notice the scanty mane giving the illusion of a maneless feline.But the fact that they are depicted as a pride shows that they can only be lions for all other cat s are solitary.


On page 24 of Sanctuary Magazine vol xxxiii,Valmik Thapar says'',As I researched in to the prehistoric era(eight to ten thousand years ago) through extraordinary books like Erwin Neumayer's Lines on Stone-The Prehistoric Rock Art of India--which reveals the absence of maned felines on rock...'
This is a factual error.Maned felines are depicted in cave paintings in lion habitats such as North West India..Being hydrophilic,both humans and tigers co- habited more often than lions and naturally the ancient people saw the tiger more often than the lion.But in places where prehistoric people did live in dry lion habitat,maned felines ARE depicted.Ancient rock paintings of Rajasthan clearly depict maned felines.
Generally human species is hydrophilic and so is the tiger.Hence naturally tigers were more familiar to ancient human beings.Most ancient civilizations evolved near rivers and not deserts or dry arid areas.There was no valid reason for the ancient man to walk in to the parched lion habitats to encounter the lion and come back to paint it.
The rock art depicts what the prehistoric people saw in the areas where they lived.Unlike modern Valmik Thapars,cave artists did not have cars or aeroplanes to travel around and see wild animals in alien or distant habitats.Mr.ValmikThapar has overlooked the fact that many species of prehistoric lions were almost maneless or had only a ruff round the neck like tigers.In cave paintings,they would be depicted like maneless felines.
   It must be remembered that eight to ten thousand years takes us back to the end of the pleistocene epoch.During those prehistoric epochs,much of Europe and Asia were occupied by the larger Cave Lion.But this species was almost maneless with just a ruff round the neck like tigers and is even believed to have had a few tigerine stripes on the neck.If this species was the one depicted on rock art,it would appear a maneless feline.Even modern taxonomists confused the cave lion with the tiger and actually named it Panthera tigris before they realized it was a lion!Cave artists may hence be excused if they made the same error!. The cave lion became extinct at the end of the pleistocene and only then it's former range was taken over by the smaller but well maned modern lion.Changing patterns of Zoo-geography has not been taken into account  when comparing past and present.The past has been decided by simply extrapolating the present.


Romila Thapar says : ''Tigers are depicted a couple of millennia earlier on Harappan seals.This made me suspect that the tiger was the more familiar animal and therefore indigenous whereas the lion may have entered the scene later''. 
As great a historian as she is,it is clear that Several important aspects have escaped her attention.Lions and tigers are ecological equivalents and their choice of habitats is so different that they will NEVER be seen in the same habitat in Nature. Lions never co-exist in the same habitat as tigers Be it Harappan seals ,be it cave paintings,the the two will never be seen side by side .Where one occurs the other will be absent.Like tigers,ancient people (as well as modern people) were hydrophilic, always dependent on water and naturally tigers(rather than lions) lived in close proximity to people. Naturally tiger depictions are bound to be more common.But today (with all our facilities for travelling round the globe in a few hours) we are equally familiar with both species.Romila has not considered the fact that ancient populations were far more sedentary than us.Nor has she considered the fact that Harappa in those days was a far wetter place, more suited to tigers (and humans) than lions.It was later that the place became dry and the Saraswathy river disappeared,and lions replaced tigers. 

Again, the depiction of an animal in a seal or painting is not necessarily proof of it's existence in a locality,nor is it's absence in a seal proof of it's non-existence.The fact that Lions are depicted in all our present day seals and coins does not mean India is full of lions from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.The fact that tigers are not depicted in our modern seals or coins does not mean that tigers are absent in India now!!The depiction of the UNICORN in Harappan seals does not mean that the Harappan cities were teeming with Unicorns!!While one can understand Romila's fascination for seals,(as a historian),one cannot understand why she has taken seals as the ultimate proof of zoo-geography.To her credit it is interesting to note that unlike Valmik Thapar she was smart enough to use the phrase''this made me suspect..''Hence this cannot be called an error in the true sense of the word.

Valmik Thapar's "OPEN MIND"
 Even though Valmik Thapar claims to have an'' open mind ''on the subject, the excerpts from the book'' Exotic Aliens'' given in Sanctuary magazine are sufficient to indicate that he had been over-fascinated by his sensational theory,and as such the sole aim of the author(from the outset) was to establish that the lion and the cheetah were exotic aliens.This has resulted in selective data collection. Favorable data alone has been selected while glaring facts  have been rejected since they are contradicting the pre-formed concept. This is not conducive to scientific thinking.

Antagonistic Mindset

Page 25 of Sanctuary Magazine Vol xxxiii exposes the antagonism of the Author towards the Government of Gujarat.Such a mindset  again is not conducive to scientific research, which is essentially a quest for truth.And truth often may be against us,and may even favour the enemy.In his eagerness to get at the Gujarat government's soft underbelly,Thapar has got himself in to a rigid mind set which appears to have impeded his scientific discretion.


No matter what anyone says to the contrary,none can deny the fact that but for Gujarat,the Asiatic lion would now be part of history, like the cave lion or the American lion.By preserving the Asiatic lion for posterity,Gujarat has set an example to the whole world,worth recording in letters of the purest gold.
Today we are able to ridicule the Asiatic lion as an Exotic Alien only because the Gujarat people preserved a few of them for us to ridicule.
 Critics claim that The king of Junagadh preserved the lions only for private shooting.Yes,but he also wanted to preserve them.If not, what prevented him from shooting the remaining lions?Did he run out of bullets?
Reports say that Lord Curzon refused to shoot the lions when he was ''informed'' that only 22 were left . Who'' informed ''him, and why?It seems far more probable that the king of Junagadh dissuaded Curzon from the lion hunt to save the lions from extinction.!


  Keeping an entire species in one geographical area is risky and the lions must be disseminated to as much of it's former range as possible to guard against catastrophies, natural or artificial.The Gujarat government must be made to realise the risk of an island population,but this requires an understanding approach, and ridiculing the Gir lion as an exotic alien is not the best approach.The Honorable Supreme court has ordered the translocation of lions from Gir,but if we fail to conserve the lions thus acquired ,it will further prove our ineptitude.  Already, we are answerable to the whole world about what we did to the tigers of Sariska or to the lions of Chandraprabha,all of which disappeared without a trace under the very noses of our self-proclaimed conservation ''experts''.They should realise that mere muscle power are egoism alone can not succeed.(May be they have a few things to learn from the rulers of Gujarat who preserved an apex predator without genetic studies,without camera traps,and without radio-collars at a time when the entire fire-power of the British empire had the lion in it's sights!!)


Mr.Thapar says : ''I discovered that lions were sent to India from Balkh on land routes as early as the 6th century,then by sea from Mozambique in the 17th century,and from many parts of Africa in the 20th century,all to stock the forests of the Maharajas''.

 Merely sending a few specimens as gifts can not be magnified in to unreal proportions to give a misleading impression.Exactly how many specimens were brought?How were they captured?How were they transported?
These questions are relevant because in those days there was no veterinary expertise,no tranquilizer guns,no specialized transport vehicles,no meat preservation technology by which such a Herculean task could have been accomplished.Even capturing a single lion alive in those days would have been quite a feat let alone hundreds of lions and thousands of cheetahs.
       The great difficulty with which the Maharaja of Rewa (that too in the recent past)captured a single tiger alive,that too a cub( the white tiger cub Mohan)from his neighbouring forest makes one wonder how those bygone Maharajas went all the way to Africa,caught all those ferocious lions by the scruff of the neck and dragged them all the way to India over thousands of Kilometers ,quite a prodigious feat by any standards! Such mass capture and transport were not possible in those days,and it is not possible even today,as Thapar himself knows!!!
At least regarding the cheetah,he says''cheetahs very fragile in nature..will perish in the course of these experiments.''(Sanctuary Magazine vol xxxiii page 27).It is the same Thapar who says literally hundreds of cheetahs were imported in to India from Africa in the 20th century.(page 27,same magazine).May be the cheetahs in those days were not so fragile!!


Mr.Thapar says lions were sent to India in the 6th century ,17th century,and the 20th century--''all to stock the forests of the Maharajas''.(page 26,Sanctuary Magazine,vol xxxiii).Does he mean all our lions are recent imports?.
If so he is absolutely wrong.
      The African lion and the Gir lion differ morphologically,anatomically and osteologically.These variations take a long long time to occur.Even 5000 years is too short a time for this as Stephen O Brien points out.Stephen O'Brien  is probably right in his conclusion that the Asiatic and African lions separated at least 100000 years ago, and not in the recent past,courtesy Indian Maharajas, as Thapar claims.


Thapar says : ''I reached my conclusions because the numbers of lion and cheetah were never sufficient for them to have been a separate species.''( page 26,same magazine).
How can the cheetah be numerous in the wild if they are all captured and kept as pets by Mughal rulers as Thapar himself says.But we shall discuss the cheetah later(part 2 of this article).Let us first take the lion.

All evidence points to the fact that lions were not rare,but were made rare by the brutality of the British regime and it's trigger-crazy officers.Not only did British officers ruthlessly kill lions,the British government in India actually offered a prize for killing lions as well as tigers.....Here are some examples---

1)Captain Mundy wrote in 1827--''Of these animals(lions),there were formerly great numbersin the surrounding wilderness,but from the zeal of the English Sportsmen,and from the price put upon their heads by the government(British Government),the royal race of the forest-like other Indian dynasties-is either totally extinct or has been driven far back in to the desert.'' Captain Mundy was referring to the region we now call Harriana.
2)In 1831,Major Brown wrote in the Bengal Sporting Magazine,''the lion was once very numerous in Harriana,but there is not one to be found now''.
3)The famous naturalist Blyth wrote in the' India Sporting Review'in 1857.."it is indeed strange that the king of beasts should in so very few years have been utterly lost to the recollection of the native inhabitants of Harriana.It is curious that not even a tradition remains of the former existence of that grand and most conspicuous animal in the Harriana territory.''
4)In 1830, "Ignotus' wrote in the Oriental Sporting Magazine,''Lions are not very scarce now,although before this year they have never been heard of''.(about Kashi in Gujarat)
5)Ignotus describes the ruthless destruction of Indian lions.
.''a lion and a lioness were shot,being finished off by sportsmen on horseback''(Kashi)
''a lion was shot from the safe precincts of a howdah on elephant back.It measured 9 feet 6 inches.''(Khandesh)
''the same party continued the unsporting practice of burning lions out of the jungle.Several were killed..''
''A lion and lioness were killed in Baroda territory in 1832..''
6)The Bengal Sporting Magazine for 1841describes 8 lions being killed in one day.
8)Sir Bartle Frere of the Bombay civil service killed a similar number(8) in one day.{ not bad hunting..16 lions killed in 2 days..}
But take a look at the  nextcase..
9)''During the Indian Rebellion of 1857,a British Officer killed THREE HUNDRED LIONS''.( sport indeed)
     Can we still pretend that we don't know what happened to the Indian Lions?
The story of the Indian lion is a story of brutal killing,absolutely heartless,and they would have suffered the same fate as the passenger pigeon,the dodo ,the Steller's sea cow and a host of other unfortunate animals and birds.
As Colonel R.G Burton rightly pointed out,''it would long since have disappeared from the Gir had it not been protected.''That didn't happen, thanks only to Gujarat!


On page 29 Sanctuary Magazine vol xxxiii,Mr.Thapar says: ''In Gujarat,it was called ''ootia bagh'' or camel- coloured tiger,revealing a lack of tradition. '
It is not clear what Mr.Thapar means by this. 'Camel coloured tiger' is just a khicdi of exotic words(English).It is true that a few ignorant people used to describe lions that way.In 1847,a native Indian hunter killed a lioness at Rhylee in Damoh district and brought the skin to claim the reward for killing a tiger.He thought it was a camel-coloured tiger he had killed.But such instances should not be taken as proof of' lack of tradition'.
  In fact the word ''Singh'' used by Rajputs as well as Sikhs denotes' lion' and it shows their respect for the valour of the king of beasts.
The word 'Sher' again means lion.There has been some misnomers like Sher-Babr, butia-bagh etc,but there is no room for doubt about what ''Sher'' means.
In most Indian languages,the throne of the ruler is called''Simhasana'',the seat of the lion,a tribute to the king of beasts.
Prince Vijaya who led his people in to Sri Lanka 2500 years ago,named them ''Sinhala'',the people of the lion.
In Dasavatharam ,the basis of Hinduism,the fourth incarnation of Vishnu is named ''Narasimham'',again a tribute to the majestic king of beasts.
Singapore is named after the lion.(Simhapura-lion capital.)The first emigrants to arrive at that place saw a majestic Asiatic lion even before they landed and they paid tributes to him by naming the place after him.Thapar's claim that there is no tradition attached to the Asiatic or Indian or Gir lion (call it by any name you please)is so far from the truth that it makes one wonder...
The Asiatic lion therefore has more tradition attached to it than any other animal including the African lion.At least it has a nation(Singapore) ,a language(Sinhala),a god(Narasimham),a throne(Simhasanam),and the followers of 2 religions(Rajputs and Sikhs) named after it.


On page 25,sanctuary magazine vol xxxiii, Romula Thapar says: '' I believe the lion came to India just before or with Alexander's invasion of India around the third or fourth century BC.''
 She has wisely used the phrase'' I believe'' and therefore this cannot be called an error. Nevertheless I believe she based her conclusion on the assumption that the Asoka Pillars represent the first depiction of the lion in India.I would like to remind her that the first human depiction of an animal is just an artifact and it should not be taken to mean that the animal was absent before that date.For instance the first depiction of Tyranosaurus Rex was made in recent times.That does not mean that T. Rex did not exist before the time of Georges Cuvier.


Bittu Sahgal laments,''How could history have missed the fact that lions and cheetahs were never indigenous to India?''(Sanctuary Magazine vol xxxiii page 28).

This is rather amusing.History missed this ''fact'' because it is not a fact.. Mr.Bittu  is describing as a'' fact'' something for which the author himself says he has no clinching evidence.(Page 26,same magazine).History records events that actually happened and it does not record day dreams no matter what reputation the dreamer enjoys.For instance the Gwalior king( at the instance of Lord Curzon) tried to introduce African lions in to his kingdom AND HISTORY DID NOT MISS THIS FACT.Had those shiploads of African lions and cheetahs of Thapar's dream actually arrived in India in flesh and blood,history would not have missed that either.At the period under scrutiny,India had an assortment of human beings,both native and foreign.During the 19th and 20th century there were almost as many Englishmen here as Indians, many of whom have written at length about wild life,big game hunting etc.If caravans or ships loaded with lions or cheetahs kept arriving from Kenya every weekend to a rousing reception  from Indian Maharajas, at least one of these gentlemen would have seen that most grandiose spectacle.It is simply taxing credibility too much to say that every one of them missed everyone of such lion+cheetah cargoes!!!everytime they arrived.!
It is unfortunate enough for Mr.Thapar to proclaim  something for which he has no clinching evidence.For Mr.Bittu to so blindly and  brazenly support and propagate an unproven idea is more unfortunate still.That sir,was the most unkindest cut of all!.
Clinching evidence is what science is all about.It is clinching evidence that separates fact from fiction ,and science from gossip..Clinching evidence is what scientists were looking for when they risked their lives in outer space.Clinching evidence is what scientists were looking for when they explored the tomb of Tutankhamen.Clinching evidence is what scientists were looking for when they dived under the sea looking for the mysteries of the Titanic,the lost city of Dwaraka,the Marriana trench...Those who don't have clinching evidence, can call themselves gossip-mongers ,not scientists.
And Mr.Bittu goes on to scream,''Every library should have one.Sanctuary will certainly recommend it as compulsory reading for teachers of biology,natural history,and human history.And we intend to organise academic debates on the subject across India".
I would like to remind Mr.Thapar and Mr.Bittu that Indian Wild life existed before them and will survive after them.
But without Indian Wild life Thapar and  Bittu would never have become what they are today.
It is for them to decide whether the future generation of Indians should say that Indian wildlife survived because of them,or inspite of them.

TRUE EXOTIC ALIEN, The Tiger in South Africa.

I for one firmly suspect 'The Exotic Alien' theory has some exotic roots.Today, some westerners are deliberately introducing tigers in to South Africa,where it most certainly is an EXOTIC ALIEN in every sense of the word.There is absolutely no justification for this.The claim of these people that they are ensuring a second home for the tiger where it will survive after it's extinction in India is totally unjustifiable.If that was their real aim they would have re-introduced the tiger in to areas within it's former range where it has since become extinct.The real aim is probably to supplement South Africa's big cat representation,an aspect in which India is miles ahead of every country or even every continent including the whole of Africa and America put together..I believe the exotic alien theory provides an ingenious way to 1) discredit India's amazingly rich wildlife , especially Big Cat representation, by condemning it as a bunch of stolen species.2) to justify the artificial dissemination of tigers in Africa which has absolutely no ecological justification.
The mere fact that India is now the only country in the world where the lion and the tiger occur side by side puts it way beyond any other country or continent,and it is this unique image some people want to erase.Why else should  they be in such a hurry to propagate an exotic idea,that too an unproven one?

The tiger has replaced the lion as our national animal.But the lion continues to be the King of Beasts,a throne he will always hold.Like a true king,the Gir Lion has fought back heroically against those who branded him an exotic alien.LONG LIVE THE KING...May his reign never end.

The uniqueness of India's wildlife.

A close look at India's wildlife will reveal it's enviable variety and diversity and at once prove that it is a gift of God and not the Khichdi of exotic genes some guys are trying to portray it as.

1).India is home to the world's largest cat,the tiger,and to the world's smallest cat,the Rusty Spotted cat . (an honor it shares with Africa's black footed cat).

2) India is home to 4 out of five big cats in the world, while the entire continent of Africa has only 2(lion and leopard) and it is this aspect that has made it the object of envy.
Big cats belong to the genus Panthera and they differ from small cats ( genus Felis) in many ways--an elastic ,expansile larynx which enables them to roar,round rather than elliptical pupils,the habit of strething their forepaws forwards when crouching etc.Small cats have a bony connections in their larynx which produces a miawoing sound rather than a roar.
The big cats of India are the lion,tiger,leopard and the snow leopard.The only species missing from the list is the jaguar,the only big cat of America.(It is a pity the Indian Maharajas did not import a few shiploads of them as well !!!). The distinction between big and small cats is not made on size.It is rather better to say roaring cats and purring cats.

3)India is home to 3 or possibly 4 species of bear.--Sloth bear,brown bear,Himalayan black bear,and possibly even sun bear.The entire continent of Africa does not have even one bear species.(Africa's only bear,the Atlas bear is long extinct).

4)India has the world's largest member of the cattle family,the Gaur.

5)India is home to the world's most beautiful deer-Spotted Deer,

6)India is home to the world's most beautiful antelope--the Black Buck.Africa is the home of the antelope family with nearly 125 species against India's 3.And Africa has some lovely antelope---Sable,Greater Kudu, Nyala, Bush buck,etc but readers can verify for themselves which is THE most beautiful.

Picture of Black Buck                                                              Picture of 4-horned antelope


                                                                                                                                                                7)India is home to the world's only four-horned antelope.Africa has none.And in fact this is the only truly 4-horned animal in the world.                                                                                                                                                          8)India is the home of the world's most beautiful bird--the peacock and the worlds second most beautiful birds--the Himalayan Monal pheasant and the golden pheasant..Readers can verify this by comparing the Birds of Paradise,The Quetzal etc all strong contenders for second prize after the peacock.As somebody said'' the peacock's dance,beats them all''.

Picture of Golden Pheasant                                                        
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Picture of Monal pheasant                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                                                9)India has the world's highest living cat--the snow leopard.

10)India has seven species of deer,more than any continent--Africa or America.In fact the entire continent of Africa has only one indigenous species of deer---the Red Deer or Barbary Stag.The spotted deer fallow deer etc were artificially introduced in to Africa and are therefore EXOTIC ALIENS.Indian deer are-- the Sambar,the Red deer,The swamp deer,the hog deer,the muntjac, Manipur deer(dancing deer),the spotted deer.In addition India also has the Musk Deer,and the Mouse deer,bringing the total to a staggering 9!!!.

11)India has more species of wild goat and sheep than any other country or continent-Africa and America.The Himalayan Tahr, The Bharal(blue sheep),the Shapu(urial), Ibex ,Markhor ,Nayan ,Marco polo's sheep all haunt our high mountains of the Himalayas,while the Nilgiri Tahr scampers about over the steep slopes of the Western Ghats.

12)India has the world's largest poisonous snake,the King Cobra.

13) India is home to the world's highest flying bird,the Bar-headed goose which has been seen flying over Mt.Everest.
These are only a few points out of many that make India a unique treasure house of Nature.

''Leading Thinkers''

Mr.Bittu's claim on page 23 of Sanctuary magazine vol xxxiii that ''It would be a grave error,I might add to dissmiss a book written by three leading thinkers in their disparate fields" is rather amusing.Such veiled threats are unnecessary in science.No concept should be imposed on the unsuspecting public.. Judging the book and it's concepts should be left to the reader's free will and  coercion is undesirable. And the content of the book is what counts,not the reputation of the authors,no matter how awesome.
I had a great friend,an expert physicist, who wrote a book conclusively proving that the Earth is flat,and with convincing arguments that all those satellite images of a round Earth are optical illusions.( He has given up the argument after proper psychiatric treatment!!)
Mr.Bittu's  claim that the authors are ''leading thinkers'' in their fields is again off the mark.I have always been a great fan of Mr.Valmik Thapar  for the relentless way in which he has persued the cause of tiger conservation,,but not because of his'thinking abilities.The entire country is indebted to Valmik Thapar,to Belinda wright and all their proteges for their invaluable efforts to save the tiger.Romila Thapar's contributions to historical studies is again truly laudable,but not her thinking abilities.If the authors of the book ''Exotic Aliens'' and their hysterical supporter Mr.Bittu has succeeded in proving anything ,it is that they are most certainly not thinkers!!! Why should they be?They are all champions in their own right,and I can not comprehend why they should tarnish their own names by writing such an error-ridden book filled with absurdities !! Mr. Bittu claims that this book will 'turn history on its head' , far more likely that it will turn the images of the writers on their heads !!!

It is not fair that   the past, present,and future of India's wild life should be decided by a few individuals who owe their own larger than life reputations to  the mystic charm of India's wild heritage. The delusion that India's wild life exists within the 100 odd pages of a magazine or book should be put to the ultimate test.

Looking back I cannot escape the feeling that perhaps we are paying the price for over glorification of individual personalities ,for nurturing monopolies in the field of nature conservation and journalism,for over-trusting the Western intellect,for over-reliance on Western technology and for our indifference to our own wild heritage.

  I am  indebted to Wikipedia and all whose  uploaded photos have helped to disprove Thapar's exotic 'Alien' concept .]

Note- In part 2 of this article we shall analyze the claim of the Thapars that the Indian cheetah was an exotic alien and their astonishing  ideas regarding the cheetah in India.