HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Little Tyke: The True Story of a Gentle Vegetarian Lion
Author: George Westbeau
Publisher: Quest Books, republished in 1995
Language level: 1 (nothing objectionable that I recall)
Reading level: Ages 12 and up
Rating: 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Westbeau, George. Little Tyke: The True Story of a Gentle Vegetarian Lion (originally published in the 1950s). Many years ago, when I was still in elementary school, I recall reading a book about a lion named “Little Tyke.” I don’t remember now whether it was from our public library, in the small library of the rural school which I attended, or perhaps loaned by a friend. I read it before I read Born Free, but I was still aware of either the book or the movie about the lioness Elsa or both. I had forgotten about Little Tyke until being reminded of it while reading a book about another tamed lion. Little Tyke was an African lion who was born in a zoo sometime in the 1940s. Her mother had been born free in Africa, and later captured. After being in captivity, the mother had given birth to four litters of cubs and quickly killed all of them. When a fifth litter was born, zoo officials were standing by to try and rescue the cub before the mother could harm it.
Georges and Margaret Westbeau, animal lovers and ranch owners, were also standing outside of the lion cage that day and witnessed the mother’s violent reaction. When the mother lion flung the cub against the cage and had the newborn’s front leg in her mouth, George quickly grabbed the small lion and pulled her out of the cage. Feeling sorry for her he said, “You poor little tyke.” The next day Little Tyke was taken home to live on the ranch of the Westbeaus who lovingly raised her and bottled fed her several times a day. Taking the advice of a zoo curator, when Little Tyke was three months of age they gave her bones of freshly slaughtered cows in an effort to wean her, but her reaction was one of repulsion, and she threw up. Then they tried putting drops of blood into her milk bottle, but she would not drink it. Since Little Tyke wouldn’t eat meat, her owners fed her a vegetarian diet that consisted of grains mixed with milk and raw eggs. Realizing that they would not turn Little Tyke into a carnivore, the Westbeaus focused on finding high protein grains to add to her diet. No one is quite sure why Little Tyke never exhibited any signs of meat deficiency.
Lions, even in captivity, are typically thought to be carnivorous hunters, but Little Tyke was just the opposite, becoming sweet and gentle. She enjoyed spending time with all of the animals on the ranch where she lived. The Westbeaus received an invitation to take Little Tyke, who was by then age nine, onto a popular television show of the time hosted by Art Baker. Unfortunately, after spending a few weeks in Hollywood, Little Tyke contracted viral pneumonia and died one night in her sleep after an evening of watching television. George Westbeau wrote this book their experiences with Little Tyke sometime in the 1950s. It was republished by the Theosophical Publishing House in 1986, and republished again in 1995. I remember enjoying the book. One reviewer commented, “More of a kids book than a serious analysis of the implications, it is a good read and the photos are amazing.”