During this lockdown, one person is having nothing to do with the gloom and is making it his duty to entertain everyone else.
Since documented Egyptian history, lions are valued as a symbol of power and prestige. In the olden days, the ancient pharaohs hunted the big cats that resided along the Nile.
We can tell of their significance by looking at the head of the Great Sphinx of at the fore of the pyramids of Giza. 26-year old lion tamer Ashraf El-Helw is an Egyptian household sensation ever since the lockdown was announced.
Ashraf would do the unthinkable and even reprimand his pet lion to obey his commands. He has forgone the controlled setting of the circus environment to carry out his performances at the comfort of his house.
According to Arab News, El-Helw admits that the initial change of venue affected the animals and took time to get used to. At times the lions are kept in the family farm, a short drive outside of Cairo.
He also made an online show that featured on Instagram and Facebook and is watched by thousands of viewers. The family intends to monetize the content and use the lost revenues to pay their assistants and feed their wild cats. Video.
Cairo closed all entertainment facilities including the popular circus. The measures were part of the bold preventative interventions taken by governments across the globe to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Given the loss of livelihood and freedom of movement, the entertainer decided to take up a different approach. He would invite the lioness to his home for a few hours every week.
The lion-taming family
Taming of lions has been passed down in Ashraf’s family going back three generations. His great grandmother Mahasen was labeled “the iron lady” for being the first Middle Eastern and Arab woman to tame the cats. In 1978, his grandfather was mauled to death during a live show performance by the same wild beasts. The tragedy of the occurrence wasn’t strong enough to dissuade Ashraf from continuing in the career path. His three sisters and only brother are lion trainers too. A career path that has come with its fair share of injuries and fatalities.
Lions brought home
The famous lioness Joumana is brought to his house twice a week to train. She is transported on the back of a jeep while inside a metal cage. On arrival, the lion is carefully led to the elevator. After the performance, she is returned to the Cairo park. The neighbors trust the family’s ability to tame the animals and have never lodged a complaint. Initially, when the videos went viral, some people raised the prospect of animal mistreatment, but Asharaf strongly denies that as false allegations.
Female lion tamers
Ms. El-Helw is well renowned among lion tamers. Her performances carry a macho role that leaves no doubt to who commands and controls.
Her voice is raised and controlling, and she wields a whip or baton. Contrary to what people believe, the intimidation posture is all for the show.
In no way are the animals subjected to any form of torture or harm. Her strategy is to bait the lions to beck her call using meat slices and charm. Having lost her father to one of the lions who mauled him during a performance, she understands the risks involved in this family tradition.
The lion responsible for the attack was Sultan. According to her family narration, Sultan died 2 weeks after the incident, after regretting his actions.
As an indication of her passion for the skill to remain in the family, she is already training her 8-year-old son to take over her in the future. In Egypt, there are only 6 female lion trainers representing a country where 25% of women work.
In Europe, several countries have banned the use of live animals in popular entertainment.