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The Asiatic lion

February 28, 2011

People are often surprised when they see lions on Thai temple walls. ‘Why would they put an African animal as a guardian, and not an Asiatic tiger?’

There were Asiatic lions when Buddha was alive, even European lions and leopards, but almost every Asiatic lion has been killed! There is a pathetic remnant in the Gir National Park in Gujarat state in western India, but the mighty lions of Greece, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan were exterminated by man! The tiger is probably going the same way, thanks to stupidity, superstition and overpopulation.

The mighty Bengal lion (Panthera leo persica) was once ‘the noblest of animals, like Buddha the noblest among men’. The lion figure was exported along with Buddhism to Sri Lanka and later to Southeast Asia.

Every human generation is born into a poorer and poorer world. There is hardly no virgin forest left anywhere in northern Thailand, everything was once logged. Most wild mammals are gone, killed and eaten, and most wild orchids are gone too, killed during fires and clear cuts, or stolen and sold to innocent amateurs who kill them in their gardens by over-watering. A small group of enthusiasts within Gum Hak Doi Suthep now tries to teach the public that a forest is more than a bunch of upright planks, making the pangolin a symbol of the forest. The forecast is grim, this animal will probably disappear too, and future people will probably deny it ever existed, like we do now with the Asiatic lion. If we passively lie down and let the mudslide of ignorance choke us, we lose everything beautiful for sure, but with patient education there is a slim chance humanity develops into a caring species, developing a civilization where science and culture triumph over superstition and primitive desires.

Eric Danell

About 2200 years ago, Buddhist Emperor Ashoka of India raised a lion pillar in Sarnath in today’s Indian state Uttar Pradesh. This was the place where Lord Buddha founded his first monastery, and first gave his teachings. A copy of this lion pillar can be seen at the Chiang Mai temple Wat Bupparam where I took this picture.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Boerje permalink
    February 28, 2011 5:51 PM

    Very interesting! Although I have spent a lot of time in Gujarat State I never heard of lions in that area.

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