Egyptian lion tamer Ashraf el-Helw is causing quite the stir.
Following the closure of a Cairo circus due to the Covid-19 outbreak, el-Helw decided to bring his big cats home. Most of the lions and other circus animals were relocated to el-Helw’s family farm, where there are spacious gardens and swimming pools.
Social distancing hasn’t stopped el-Helw from putting on a show. He fetches the lions from the farm and brings them into his Cairo apartment to film performances for social media, according to The New York Times.
“She is a female lion, she is four and a half years old, she performs with me in the circus and is very clever,” el-Helw told the Associated Press of one of his stars, his lion Gimana.
Gimana jumps through hoops, leaps over the trainer and does other tricks for the camera at his home, according to AP. Although the arrangement is unusual, the profession has been in el-Helw’s family for three generations.
“Since I opened my eyes to the world, I found lions around me,” he said, according to The New York Times.
The 26-year-old began working with the animals when he was six and started performing with them at 16. His grandmother, Mahassan el-Helw, is known as the first Arabic woman lion trainer.
Today el-Helw and his three older sisters are trainers at Egypt’s National Circus. Despite his grandfather being mauled to death and other family members being attacked, the family doesn’t appear to be backing down.
However, el-Helw’s social media presence is not without its controversy. Animal rights activist Dina Zulfikar and board member of Egypt’s largest zoo criticized el-Helw’s decision.
“This is an irresponsible and foolish behavior,” she told The New York Times. “They are not pets, they are wild animals.”
If you enjoyed this story, you might like to check out these innovative zoo cameras that monitor animals health from afar.
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