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)
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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

  • 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.


UAE condemns killing of Iranian scientist, calls on all parties to exercise self-restraint

Updated 2 min 42 sec ago

UAE condemns killing of Iranian scientist, calls on all parties to exercise self-restraint

  • Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed in an ambush near Tehran on Friday
  • He has been described by Western intelligence services as the leader of a covert atomic bomb programme

LONDON: The UAE condemned the killing of Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh and called on all parties to exercise self-restraint on Sunday, Emirates News Agency reported. 

“The region is experiencing a period of instability, and security challenges push us to all to avoid actions that would lead to an escalation,” the news agency quoted the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation as saying. 

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed in an ambush near Tehran on Friday.

He has been described by Western and Israeli intelligence services for years as the leader of a covert atomic bomb programme halted in 2003, which Israel and the United States accuse Tehran of trying to restore in secret.