256 BC -- India -- Seven Pillars -- King Ashoka (Piyadasi) of India issues Seven Pillar edicts, one of which states: "Twenty-six years after my coronation various animals were declared to be protected -- parrots, mainas, ruddy geese, wild ducks, bats, queen ants, terrapins, boneless fish, fish, tortoises, porcupines, squirrels, deer, bulls, wild asses, wild pigeons, domestic pigeons and all four-footed creatures that are neither useful nor edible... "
Asoka practiced a form of Buddhism which like Hinduism and Jainism holds that animals should not be eaten, and that an aged or disabled cow or work animal should be retired and well-treated. Asoka sent missionaries to Thailand and Sri Lanka to teach Buddhism, including his son Arahat Mahinda. Interupting a hunt upon arrival in Sri Lanka in 247 B.C., "Arahat Mahinda stopped King Devanampiyatissa from killing the deer and told the king that every living creature has an equal right to live," according to Sri Lankan elephant conservationist Jawantha Jayewardene. Persuaded, the king became a Buddhist and "decreed that no one should kill or harm any living being," Jayewardene continues. "He set apart a large area around his palace as a sanctuary that gave protection to all fauna and flora. This was called Mahamevuna Uyana, and is believed to be the first sanctuary in the world." Arahat Mahinda and the other Asokan emissaries also introduced animal sheltering as a central function of monasteries wherever they went. Buddhist monasteries in Thailand and Sri Lanka to this day often double as animal shelters, though at some the custom was long ago distorted into keeping just a lone chained temple elephant. (M. Clifton, 2007)
According to Buddhist scholar Ven. S. Dhammika, Ashoka is significant today. "...With widespread disillusionment in prevailing ideologies and the search for a political philosophy that goes beyond greed (capitalism), hatred (communism) and delusion (dictatorships led by "infallible" leaders), Asoka's edicts may make a meaningful contribution to the development of a more spiritually based political system."