Mega Pride: Of lions, humans and evolutionary lessons | Sunday Observer

Mega Pride: Of lions, humans and evolutionary lessons

Lions in the wild and every other creature should have the space and conditions to live in natural environments and evolve through natural processes.
Lions in the wild and every other creature should have the space and conditions to live in natural environments and evolve through natural processes.

Asareerang guha sayang — Dhammapada

(The ‘outside’ lies close to the cave, and yet beyond it)

Majestic. Proud. Aloof. Surveyor of all in worlds where threat is far more effective than execution, which of course others have been delegated to deliver. In the wilds, in grasslands or savannas, in day typically and atypically at night, the lion is king. In fiction, in legend and mystery, belief systems and cultural iconography, the lion is king. Our legends have it that the Sinhala people are descendants of a lion. That is the story of Sinhabahu.

The lion is the preeminent symbol of our state, but this is not a phenomenon peculiar to us. In many Indo-Aryan communities the lord of the jungle has been enshrined in insignia related to monarchies and kingdoms. There are of course communities which have given such status to other creatures such as the tiger, leopard, cobra, eagle, elephant, horse and even the peacock. The lion however has pride of place.

According to scientific evidence, modern human beings or homo sapiens have walked this earth for several hundred thousand years. There is evidence of around twenty forms of hominids who are considered to be our evolutionary ancestors. It is now believed that the modern human being, either through subjugation or evolutionary blend emerged as the dominant species on earth around 40,000 years ago.

What has this got to do with lions? Well, a close examination would reveal a remarkable resemblance between the subspecies of archaic humans known as Neanderthals and a lion rearing up on its hind legs. I have surmised that the Sinhabahu legend was an Indo-Aryan narrative whose antecedents lie in the battles and unions of homosapiens and Neanderthals.

Legend and conjecture aside, the lion is clearly the finest specimen in the family Felidae. There are some who find the leopard a more splendid creature, but in almost all societies it is the lion that has been consecrated as the lord in the animal kingdom.

It is accepted that it was around 12,000 years ago that the homo sapiens shifted from hunting and gathering to agriculture.

As a hunter the biggest and most fearsome threat was posed by the lion. It is hypothesized that our ancestors evolved into bipeds on account of being forced to remain erect in bodies of water and by wielding heavy clubs and spears to keep the big cats at bay. This fear not only became ingrained in the species-consciousness. Human beings, as a result, elevated the lion either to astral heights or to the pinnacle of political formations, in other words, royalty, symbolically.

It was domestication that signaled the transition from hunter to agriculturalist. They began growing grain, vegetables and fruit. They tamed animals. The wild cat became part of the primitive household, wolves became dogs.

Horses, cattle, goats, birds, reptiles and in Asia even elephants were tamed. Big cats are rarely domesticated, but that too was done. Today domesticated animals outnumber those in the wild. It is estimated that there are 9000 - 10,000 bird species and 200 to 400 billion birds, but we also have 19 billion chicken. There are approximately 4,000 lions in the wilds, but over 600 million domesticated cats.

And yet, the lion is still the king. The lion hasn’t been displaced as the preferred symbol of the powerful.

Lions hunt together and consider safety in a collective manner.

The female looks for the best male to mate, generate and carry the genetic line. It is the female that hunts with males rarely joining them. The male appears aloof and even selfish in all matters but is a heavyweight nevertheless and a champion undisputed.

Let’s flip our question. Let us ask, ‘What has all this got to do with us?’

It is now accepted that the world as we know it was not the product of a creator god but a result of geographical and biological evolution over several million years.‘Survival of the fittest’ is a shorthand for this process. It was all about becoming better able to deal with environments that could be unforgiving. This is what altered genetic maps. Unlike other creatures, however, homosapiens have shown a tendency to use genetic science and other technologies to create a creature bent on enhancing power. Fueled by the notion of ‘The Chosen People’ human beings seek to dominate one and all. There’s pride in all this. The desire to be and be considered majestic, proud and even aloof and above every creature and all that can be surveyed.

Today, after many destructive wars there’s a notion that all people are equal and have a right to social and individual freedom. And yet one wonders if a particular set of human beings will emerge through the deployment of technology, carefully or carelessly, capable of and ready to reduce to dust others in the human family.

Is it the fate of the mighty lion that awaits us?

My wish is that the lions in the wild and every other creature should have the space and conditions to live in natural environments and evolve through natural processes.

Are we out of the cave or are we still within it without knowing we are? Are we the lions we could be or are we on our way to becoming domesticated cats?

The future will have the answers but in the present we can engage in self reflection. This, is an invite.

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