“Mama,” Tia said as she snuggled close to her mother. “Are we the strongest?”
The air was soft and warm, dawn gently breaking on the horizon. Mama and Tia lay in the soft grass settling in for a day of sleeping, but Tia wanted to talk. Mama usually let her ask a few questions before daylight.
“What do you mean, Tia? Who do you mean by ‘we’?”
“We cats. Lions. Are we the strongest? Are we the king of the jungle?”
“Well, Tia. Think about it.” Mama was tired from her night of hunting, but she always had a few minutes to share with her cub. “Can you think of any creature stronger than us?”
Tia was quiet a moment. “Sometimes Man kills us.”
“That’s right, Tia. Man used to kill us a lot, but we are one of the Protected Ones now.”
“So we are the biggest and strongest. We are king of the jungle, right?”
“Tia, it is time to go sleep. We are king of the jungle, but there is something that can even kill lions.”
“What? What is it, Mama? Tell me!” Tia raised her head, eyes pleading.
“Little one, I see it is time for the story of 'Bion and the Can', but then you must promise to go to sleep.” Mama’s big tongue roughly licked Tia’s coat. “Promise?”
“Oh, yes, Mama! I promise, I promise! Who is Bion?” Tia wriggled, anxious to hear the story.
“Hush,” Mama pushed Tia’s little head down with a swipe of her paw. “Settle down. You must keep quiet or I won’t tell the story. Bion was my cousin.”
“I don’t know any cousin named Bion. Was it a long time ago?”
“Tia.” Mama’s voice was stern. Tia sighed and snuggled closer to Mama’s soft body. She must remember to be quiet.
“Yes,” Mama continued. “This happened when I was young, back before we were Protected Ones. Man could shoot us and we could roam where we wished. We were told to stay away from Man, and we usually did.”
“One night, however, when the mamas were out hunting and the papas were supposed to be watching over us young cubs, Cousin Bion and I wandered away from the pride. Bion was always eager to explore and that night he ventured close to Picnic Area.”
Tia’s head came up. “Picnic Area?” she was about to ask, but just in time she snapped her mouth shut.
Mama smiled, and sensing Tia’s question, said, “Picnic Area is a place where Man feeds. When Man is done feeding, he doesn’t leave the bones and left overs out for other animals like we do. He puts them in a big shiny hollow stump called Trash Can.”
“Now Trash Can had some very interesting smells coming from it and Bion had to know what was inside. He knocked Trash Can over, the top popped off and Bion and I had a wonderful time rooting through all the delightful stuff that rolled out! Bones with bits of meat, sweet morsels stuck to paper and most fun of all were the Little Cans inside Big Trash Can. They were shiny and clattery and some had scraps of food left inside. Bion was interested in one particular Can—a little bigger than the rest, but not nearly as big as Trash Can. He was trying to get to a little piece of meat stuck on the bottom. He put his head deep into Can.” Mama’s voice sounded a little sad and she had a faraway look in her eye.
“I’m not sure how it all happened. The next thing I knew, Bion had his head deep in Can and he couldn’t get out! He cried and roared and banged around trying desperately to free his head, but he was stuck tight. I was terribly frightened and raced home to find my papa. I brought Papa back to Picnic Area, but by the time we got back, Bion was dead.”
Tia shuddered and Mama’s strong paw drew her close. “So you see, there is something that, unless tempered with wisdom, can kill even those of us who are big and strong.”
“What is it Mama? Cans?”
“No, darling. It is curiosity. Now go to sleep. The sun is up.”
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