Lion tamer upsets netizens with animal acts

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Images adapted from: Mohamed el-Shahed/AFP and Gulf Today

If someone brought a cat home, it’s met with d’aww by cat lovers and quiet approval by the most aloof humans.

For a lion tamer in Cairo, bringing a lioness home is no different to bringing a house cat home, but netizens beg to differ.

Bringing the circus home

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Lion tamer Ashraf El-Helw brings lioness Joumana into an elevator by chains
Image credit: Mohamed el-Shahed/AFP

In his videos, Egyptian lion tamer Mr. Ashraf El-Helw made Joumana the lioness jump through hoops and beg for food. Occasionally, he rewarded the lioness with pieces of raw meat between acts, but one video shows the lion tamer batting and waving a stick at Joumana to make her climb tables.

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Joumana quickly climbs the table after being batted on the rear
Image credit: Voice of America

While Mr. El-Hew’s showmanship got a lot of positive emoji reactions from netizens, a few were understandably upset to see a lioness kept like a pet.

One commenter compared it to treating another living being as a slave, another equally outdated concept:

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Source: Youtube

Another commenter warned against letting a wild animal roam in an apartment:

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Source: Youtube

Even though Mr. El-Helw claims no animals are mistreated, animal acts are gradually losing their relevance to circuses since the last generation.

Legacy of a bygone era

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A poster of “The Lion King” Terrell Jacobs, 1938
Image credit: Heritage Auctions

Mr. El-Helw is the third generation of a family of lion tamers, carrying this tradition as far back as 1889. Using animals in circuses was at its heyday during his grandfather’s generation, but circuses have since shifted away to a format focusing on acrobatic feats by human performers such as the Cirque du Soleil. The Circus Roncalli in Germany gave the old tradition a spin by using holographic animals for their shows.

Even at the turn of last century, there were reported instances of animals turning on their abusive handlers. The once sensational magician and animal handler duo Siegfried & Roy retired shortly after Roy got mauled by one of their white tigers.

LionTamer TykeConfused and afraid, Tyke the Elephant stampedes out of the circus and into gunshots, 1994
Image credit: JustWatch

The graphic and tragic story of Tyke the Elephant serves as a reminder of why animals in circus acts should be a thing of the past. After numerous abuses, she turned on her handler and ran out onto the streets of Honolulu before local police gunned her down.

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Still a problem in certain countries

Egypt still uses animals in entertainment acts but it’s not the only country still holding onto an old tradition.

Some zoos around Thailand still offer questionable shows focused on animal acts such as the boxing orangutans in Safari World at Khlong Sam Wa.

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Image credit: Time Samui

Crocodile and elephant acts also take place in Samutprakarn Crocodile Farm and Zoo, where a showman bats a crocodile with a bamboo pole and a trainer jabs an elephant to discipline it into doing tricks.

But make no mistake, not all zoos practice animal cruelty. The efforts of several zoos have saved certain endangered species from extinction where future generations might not have a chance to see those animals.

Raising awareness

We need to stop supporting such shows if we want animal facilities to shift from animal acts to more ethical ways of getting people to see animals.

Give your support to ethical animal sanctuaries and zoos that focus on proper animal care, where the animals aren’t forced to entertain audiences.

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