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Panic on streets as circus lion runs free.

By BEN HURST Content Editor @Benhurst HEY were pictures which instantly went around the world - zebras on the run after escaping from a circus in Philadelphia.

TBut an academic was reminded of amazing scenes which happened in Birmingham more than an century ago - when a lion went on the loose.

Historian Helen Cowie said that animals making a break for freedom was nothing new, especially in Victorian times.

In 1899 a young black maned Nubian lion escaped from Bostock and Wombwell's Menagerie which was in Aston.

A report, unearthed in the Pall Mall Gazette of September 28, described the amazing scenes which ensued.

It began: "The eastern suburb of Birmingham was yesterday the scene of a protracted and exciting animal hunt."

It all began when an elephant removed the fastening to the lion's cage while its keeper was distracted by a fight between an ostrich and a deer.

The beast took the chance to escape. The report read: "At first the animal seemed quite bewildered with the noise of the people, the blare of the steam trumpets, the clashing of cymbals, and the bellowing of the organs, and it remained for some time rooted to the spot."

Men working for Wombwell's Menagerie rushed to the scene, armed with ropes and iron bars.

Bostock and Wombwell's was one of the most famous travelling menageries of the 19th century. It started in the 1830s and continued until 1932 when it was finally forced to sell its collection to London Zoo.

The report contined: "Men, women and children scampered off in all directions as the lion dashed across the ground, hotly pursued by the men from Wombwell's.

"A group of children were in its path, but it cleared them at a bound."

The lion made for a stream before taking refuge in a sewer. Chief lion tamer Marcus Orenzo heard the lion's roar, crawled through a manhole and pursued the animal.

A trap was set with a cage over the drain opening and Orenzo, 'armed with a heavy revolver and accompanied by a boarhound' approached the lion, firing two shots.

"The lion tamer crawled after it with all haste, and the faithful boarhound was kept close at hand," the report continued.

The dog barked and the lion retreated, being captured in the waiting cage.

Ms Cowie said: "Thankfully, exotic animal escapes are relatively rare today, and usually end reasonably happily. But in the 19th century, when travelling menageries and circuses traversed Britain and the US, such break-outs were far more common.

"Menageries toured widely from the late 18th century, bringing exotic animals within reach of even the poorest.

"Health and safety was not a priority for exhibitors, and it wasn't unheard of to find an orangutan in your bedroom or a tiger loose in the street.

"The newspapers of the time jumped on these stories with relish, revelling in the horror of a predator on the prowl."

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Nov 27, 2015
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