Egyptian lion tamer brings circus show home

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Unable to go out and perform at the circus because of the new coronavirus, an Egyptian lion tamer has brought the show home.

Ashraf El-Helw, who comes from a long line of famous lion tamers, could not stay away from the big cats any longer.

Gimana, the lion, quietly sits on command when told and when it is time to perform, she skillfully glides over the house furniture.

Her latest Cairo performance is not in the circus, it is in El-Helw’s home.

Like many recreational and entertainment spots around Egypt, the circus closed its door because of the coronavirus.

Since then, the lions were moved to a park where they can swim in pools and roam around spacious gardens, Ashraf said.

Ashraf has been urging people to stay home on social media but when the boredom of staying indoors got to him, he thought of Gimana.

“She is a female lion, she is four and a half years old, she performs with me in the circus and is very clever,” he said.

The show she puts on at his apartment in Cairo is only part of her performance at the circus and comes without the theatrics.

For this show, tables and chairs are the stage and there are no circus props.

Despite the simple setting, El-Helw performs routine tricks with Gimana, even teaching the lion new moves.

The big cat gracefully jumps through a hoop, leaps over a trainer and performs other tricks in exchange for food.

Ashraf said he does it to entertain people, the lion, and himself.

His sister Boshra, a lion tamer as well, is involved in the simple shows held at home.

Boshra says it takes plenty of training to become a lion tamer.

“There has to be a good foundation to know what to do in case the lion attacks during a show, or how to handle a lion that is not in a good mood,” she said.

The brother and sister lion tamer duo belong to a family whose name is almost synonymous with lion taming and circus performances.

They are descendants of Mohamed El-Helw whose first venture into circus shows dates back to the late 19th century.

Today, many animal welfare organisations around the world are calling for an end to circus shows involving big cats.

The US-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, (PETA), describes it as animal cruelty.

“The stressful, unnatural environment can cause some to pace back and forth or even mutilate themselves,” the organisation said.

The Captive Animals Protection Society said the “animals suffer in the name of entertainment” and that animals perform circus tricks out fear, not out of choice.

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