Egyptian circus performer brings lions home

Egyptian circus performer brings lions home
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In this April 28, 2020 photo, 'Joumana' the lion sits on a table after 26-year-old lion tamer Ashraf el-Helw led a partial show, part of a coronavirus stay home and stay safe call to encourage people to stay home, inside his family apartment, in Cairo, Egypt. (AP)
Egyptian circus performer brings lions home
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In this April 28, 2020 photo, 26-year-old lion tamer Ashraf el-Helw leads a partial show, part of a coronavirus stay home and stay safe campaign to encourage people to stay home, with his lion 'Joumana,' inside his family apartment, in Cairo, Egypt. (AP)
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Updated 03 May 2020

Egyptian circus performer brings lions home

Egyptian circus performer brings lions home
  • El-Helw transported the lions using his own jeep
  • Once home, he allocated a special space for them to live and performed with them

CAIRO: The Egyptian government has ordered the shutting down of the National Circus to counter the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Following the closure, Ashraf El-Helw, 26, who belongs to the famous lion taming El-Helw family thought of a new idea to entertain people: He decided to bring his lions home.
El-Helw transported the lions using his own jeep. Once home, he allocated a special space for them to live and performed with them. The performance was shot on video by El-Helw and posted on his official Instagram account.
“The show was easy since I usually hold lots of performances and take part in entertainment shows and pranks that depend on lions. I grew up with lion cubs at home,” he said.
Although he now trains his animals at home, El-Helw admits it is not easy. “Changing the venue was rather hard for the animals because they are used to the circus.
“The family encouraged me to hold an online performance via social media. However, they did not expect me to be in such good control of the situation because it was the first time to have the lions at home.”
When El-Helw posted videos of the home performance he was naturally asked about having lions inside the house. He said it was unsafe for the animals to be in the house “because they need special care and attention and a special way of dealing with them that is different from dealing with household pets.”
El-Helw added that he had thought of the idea of performing at home with the lions after becoming bored due to the lockdown. He said he felt the animals were also bored after live performances were halted because of the pandemic.
“I rehearsed many times before the show at home,” El-Helw said, adding: “In the beginning, the lions felt the surroundings in the house were strange, but eventually they started interacting with me.”
“The family owns about 50 animals,” El-Helw said. “When the virus crisis erupted, the family divided the animals into groups. Some of them are in the National Circus while others are in the ranch” on the Cairo-Alexandria desert road.
He said he has decided to hold future performances in the ranch since the venue is better-equipped than his home.
Zaghloul Khedr, a researcher at the Animals Health Institute, shared concern over El-Helw’s videos. He said that they could encourage people to buy wild animals and raise them at home, “which is very dangerous.”
He added: “It is very hard to trace the trade of wild animals in Egypt since the deals are done behind closed doors and come in various forms and prices.” Khedr said that some animals are sold for thousands of dollars.
He said there were special ranches for breeding tigers and lions and that some are licensed to sell the big cats internationally in circuses, but not to individuals.
A source in the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture told Arab News that the ministry was the only body authorized to issue licenses for sheltering and breeding wild animals. 
According to the ministry’s website, the General Authority for Veterinarian Services issues private licenses for wild animal ranches including lions, tigers, and cheetahs. The ranches are licensed following the approval of the environment and interior ministries.
Conditions include sending a special committee from the authority to draft reports on the location of the ranch, which must be 500 meters away from urban communities. Moreover, special committees are set up to examine the ranch in terms of safety rules and regulations and meeting health and environmental standards.
Dina Zulfakkar, an animal rights activist and board member of the Giza Zoo, told journalists that bringing wild animals into homes was a violation of the law. She added that the video posted by El-Helw on social media “gives the wrong impression regarding how dangerous lions can be.”
El-Helw started dealing with animals, especially lions, at the age of six when he started taking part in circus rehearsals. He said he ditched a promising career as a footballer for Al-Ahly because of his passion for the circus. 
Before he started performing under the big top, El-Helw learned how to deal with animals, how to care for them and also understand their nature.
The El-Helw family has been in the circus business for more than 100 years. Ashraf El-Helw’s grandmother, Mahasen, was the first Arab female lion tamer.
El-Helw, Egypt’s youngest lion tamer, is the grandson of famed lion tamer Mohamed El-Helw who died after being mauled by a lion inside a cage in 1972.


Trump grants Bahrain’s King Hamad top honor on last day in office

Outgoing US President Donald Trump awarded the King of Bahrain the Legion of Merit with the Degree of Chief Commander. (File/AP)
Outgoing US President Donald Trump awarded the King of Bahrain the Legion of Merit with the Degree of Chief Commander. (File/AP)
Updated 38 min 50 sec ago

Trump grants Bahrain’s King Hamad top honor on last day in office

Outgoing US President Donald Trump awarded the King of Bahrain the Legion of Merit with the Degree of Chief Commander. (File/AP)
  • King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa was given the US award after Bahrain normalised relations with Israel
  • The king was also recognized for his ‘prominent role in pushing bilateral cooperation’

LONDON: Bahrain’s King Hamad was awarded a rare medal by US President Donald Trump in recognition of his “remarkable efforts” to consolidate relations and the close partnership between the two countries, Bahrain News Agency (BNA) reported on Tuesday.
Trump decorated the monarch with the Legion of Merit, Degree Chief Commander, “a rarely-awarded, prestigious decoration that can only be bestowed by the president, typically to chiefs of state or heads of government of other countries,” the White House said.
The king was also recognized for his “prominent role in pushing bilateral cooperation to broader and more comprehensive horizons, which promoted the common interests of the two countries and its peoples,” BNA said.
The outgoing American leader said that he was “pleased to present this medal to the king, who over decades contributed to establishing Bahrain’s position as a steadfast strategic ally and partner working alongside the United States.”
Trump added that Manama’s support for the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which is stationed in Bahrain, had a supportive role in enabling it to perform its multiple tasks and he praised the king’s courage and wise leadership vision for his support for peace and his decision to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel.
He described this decision as the start of a new era of economic and security cooperation among the most important US partners in the Middle East and made peace in the region a possible process that would reshape the region’s landscape in a positive way for future generations.
The American president said that the partnership between the two countries would become deeper in the Middle East.
“The king’s decorating of this prestigious medal is an indication of the high position that he enjoys in the US, and the great appreciation for the prominent roles and major contributions he has made in enhancing security, stability, and prosperity with the vision of spreading peace in the region,” the statement added.
In its final days in office, the Trump administration announced the designation of both Bahrain and the UAE as “major security partners” of the US, a status unique to both countries that demonstrated a “new level of partnership” and “represents an enduring commitment to economic and security cooperation.
“It also reflects their extraordinary courage, determination, and leadership in entering into the Abraham Accords,” the White House said on Friday.
Bahrain, the UAE, Morocco, and Sudan joined Egypt and Jordan to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel last year, in deals brokered by the US.
Also, on Friday, Trump decorated Morocco’s King Mohammed VI with the same accolade bestowed on King Hamad for “vision and personal courage,” especially his decision to resume ties with Israel, that “have positively reshaped the landscape of the Middle East and North Africa and ushered in a new era of security and prosperity for both our countries and the world.”
The Legion of Merit is a military award that was created to honor Allied leaders in World War II and had gone into obscurity until it was revived by Trump, who last month also presented it to the prime ministers of Australia, India, and Japan.

(With AFP)