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The Cult of Gir Lion

With demise of 182 lions over two years rocking Vidhansabha recently, my attention is drawn to lions, and I want to grab this opportunity as the cult of Asiatic lion is wee bit away from becoming a full-fledged religion (like that of street dogs), so we still have a chance to debate lions rationally before lion-lovers reach the epidemic proportion of dog lovers who have distorted dog-management completely.

For an honest biologist, evaluation of ecological importance of Asiatic lion will yield results that would be uncomfortable for lion-lovers.

Lion sits on the top of the pyramid of life alongside leopard, a more resourceful cat; so, even if we allow poetic liberty and accept the romantic notion that Asiatic lion, that actually feeds a lot on cattle now, does contribute to overall health of its pray base, its demise is unlikely to cause any long term damage to ecology of Gir.

Looking at the way evolution loves to be convergent, if Asiatic lion vanishes, in couple of thousand years (which would be just a wink in the eye of grand old Gia), we may have the leopard turning itself into a heavier ground-dwelling big cat looking a lot like lion of today.

If extinction, and thus total loss of a species is the fear leading to love for lions, the brutal reality is that it is a cat, hence it breeds, well, like a cat. The zoos of the world are overflowing with lions, tigers and leopards; and it is no secret amongst zoo-keepers that keeping these cats from multiplying is actually a bigger problem.

This means that the adulation Asiatic lion is receiving has no rational justification, and hence it is interesting to speculate about the source that powers intense emotional response of people.

If you enter the jungles of social media, the way to flush out the lion-cult members from its dense undergrowth is to write a critical post on the subject. As I do this often for engaging in my favourite pastime of human-watching, I have found some morphological features of the members of this holy cult.

The most common feature of lion-lovers’-cult is that lion is not forced upon them. Lion is a source of recreation that they have a choice to engage with as they please. The nature of this engagement makes it exactly like another love affair that is even more common, i.e. obsessive love for distant movie-stars.

By some queer twist of fate, evolution of reality-abstracting neocortex has extended the survival-critical ability to love instilled in human brain even to entities we fabricate in the imaginary world of neocortex.

Unfortunately for us, real love has a natural quality to cause imaginary enhancement of qualities in object of love. This is necessary for love to drive a person to invest in love. But, when the same phenomenon is translated into neocortex, it turns into a big problem, because reality-check that can cause disillusionment is not possible in case of a remote love affair.

The net result is an actress turning into a perfect woman or a lion turning into a divine and magnificent being; while, in reality, the lady could be Xanthippe personified, and lion, just another creature unfit to survive the change.

When human love is bestowed upon imaginary entities at collective level, we end up with cults that not only defy reason, but prevent application of rationality because of the brute force of public opinion.

Unfortunately for lion, it is an endangered beast that needs rational habitat management for survival. Lion’s popularity may rock Vidhansabha, but if public love for it will govern its management, real lion will soon turn into an imaginary beast.

I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

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