Last week, a very interesting book named Exotic aliens was released in Delhi. Written by a trio of authors â€” the legendary wildlife writer Valmik Thapar, acknowledged historian Romila Thapar and Moghul history scholar Yusuf Ansari â€” it is a debate about whether lions and cheetahs existed in India or were they introduced by man. While many agree that the cheetah seems to be an exotic specie, the authors have spawned a new debate that the lion too, is. They have created serious doubts through a historical enquiry that questions the indigenous nature of these animals, suggesting that lions and cheetahs were possibly introduced by the hunters or rulers of old times who brought them from faraway lands due to their fascination with exotic species. The presence of lions in our ancient sculptures and paintings are not enough as proof of their natural presence in our country. There is an argument that these may be influenced by the globally powerful image of the animal and may not have been inspired by the actual, physical presence of them. The book is well researched and has systematically examined all the possible proofs in support of the lionâ€™s presence. They start with documentations going back to the prehistoric times of 8,000-10,000 years ago, when primitive man made rock art in caves. The authors quote Erwin Neumayerâ€™s book, Lines on Stones, on prehistoric rock art of India, revealing the absence of â€˜mannedâ€™ felines on the rocks. The book is 20 years old and in this period, many more cave or rock paintings have been discovered which we need to study in detail. Further, they make an important point that Indus valley civilisation (3300-1300 BCE) shows no evidence of lions on their seals or artefacts although the civilisation was predominantly spread across Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat, which is where Indiaâ€™s lions are believed to have been once distributed. The first strong evidence in favour of the lionâ€™s presence in India was found in the 3rd BC at the Ashoka pillar, which is also an emblem of India today. Interestingly, the authors illustrate how it is more influenced by Pharaonic pillars and connections across the seas with Egypt. And if you thought that many age-old monuments, like the famous 13th century Konark sun temple in Orrisa, were full of lion sculptures thus, indicating the presence of lions in the country, consider that the temple also features sculptures of giraffes, testifying to the contemporary rulersâ€™ fondness for exotic species. The modern era offers equal food for thought. Quoting Mahesh Rangrajanâ€™s reference in his book that between 1875 and 1925, some 80,000 tigers and nearly twice as many leopards were killed by various rulers, while only 30 to 40 lions were hunted in the same period. Thapar rightly questions if itâ€™s really conceivable that lions were found naturally in the country considering only one lion was hunted every four or five years, while in contrast, 1,600 to 2,000 tigers were shot every year! Before the book was released, I met a wildlife institute head, who was not convinced with these arguments and expressed his intention to review the book and establish its views as wrong due to incomplete research and incorrect facts. But the book is based on historical evidences available on a global level and the authors referred to several hundred books to arrive at their conclusions, which Thapar says, are based on a compelling argument rather than clinching evidence. He believes the book opens the doors for new research into the history and natural history of the species and this work should inspire such research. In reality, we expect a high-level positive debate from experts in the field rather than merely a controversy or a prejudiced inference. The geneticists, paleontologists and evolutionary biologists need to take this discussion forward to finish the debate. Exotic aliens brew a new debate over age-old evidence | mydigitalfc.com [HR] [/HR] I meant to put in the title "Are Lions and Cheetahs not indigenous to India"