The fable of the cheetah and the lion

Feb. 06, 2013 @ 04:49 AM

Once upon a time, a severe drought triggered a terrible famine that engulfed the jungle. The deer and the antelope no longer had the energy to play; the early birds were too fatigued to search for worms before sunrise; and the big cats would have killed to get someone’s goat.

The situation became so serious, that there was a mass exodus from what remained of the great watering hole. With the exception of some big cats, almost everyone left to find a new source of water and food.

Of those remaining behind, the lions maintained their king of the jungle status by managing to catch the few remaining prey. However the smaller cats, such as the leopards and cheetahs, found it impossible to compete for food and were slowly starving.

Finally, one particular cheetah named Lance could stand it no longer.

Lance was well-known throughout the jungle. A popular athletic figure, he was revered among all the cats for his great racing speed. He was also famous for his good looks, healthy lifestyle, and skillful prancing.

In fact, Lance was seven time winner of the prestigious jungle Tour de Prance (although there were always rumors that he supplemented his diet with performance-enhancing bugs).

But beneath his polished, good-guy character in public, Lance was really a cunning and arrogant cheetah. Determined to survive the famine at all costs, he devised a plan for self-preservation (only sharing his scheme with his cross-species feathered friend, Sheryl the crow).

So, late one night, while the other cats in his group slept, Lance crept off into the jungle towards the lion den.

Finding a small mud pool, Lance rolled himself in the muck to cover his spots. Then he pulled up ferns and scratched off moss from trees, and rolled his head in them.  After several hours, and bathed in the jungle moonlight, Lance gazed down at his reflection in the last remaining small puddle of water.

“Success!” he growled to himself. For he looked (almost) like a lion!

The next day, after the lions had killed an antelope, Lance crept towards the lions and joined them. He feasted, unnoticed, on the meal. After cleaning off the mud and moss, Lance later returned to join his starving pack, pretending to be hungry like the rest of them.

As the drought worn on, the other members of Lance’s pack continued to grow weaker from starvation.  But Lance was a clever cheetah. He continued to disappear every few nights and, donning his disguise, fed with the lions.

“Why are you not getting thin and sick like the rest of us?” asked the bewildered members of his pack one day. “Do you have a secret food source?”

“Of course not,” lied Lance. “I am just naturally stronger and faster than you.”

But it was soon obvious to everyone that Lance was not being honest. The few surviving members of his group were appalled by his selfish behavior and left him alone, preferring to risk the dangers of searching for food and water elsewhere.

Even Sheryl the crow saw what a fraud her friend had become. “What a dopey cheetah,” she squawked, and flew away.

But Lance refused to acknowledge his deceit. Instead, he went to live with the lions, permanently disguised as one of them.

Only a few days passed when a team of human hunters came to the area. They too were hungry, so they shot, killed, and ate all the lions, including Lance.

Moral: Cheetahs never prosper, especially when they’re lion.


Thomas’ features and columns have appeared in more than 270 magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, and Christian Science Monitor. He can be reached at his blog: