Saturday 24 May 2014

Truth is Stranger Than Fiction

You’ll remember this photo from the last post and me jokingly saying "I wonder where the lion escaped to…."  

Well, one of my reader’s (and photo forum friends), Lisa from Dunedin left a comment on the post; 
…….the lion cage did indeed house a couple of lions - Sultan and Sonia. They escaped from a circus in Lawrence in 1978 and sadly were both shot for their troubles. The circus owner donated their bodies to the Otago Museum in Dunedin and they can be seen in their fully stuffed glory in the Animal Attic on the top floor. Well worth a visit and the most popular animals up there.

How extraordinary, I don’t recall the event at all so I goggled to find out more about it. I found a lady who has written a book on the “Lawrence Lions” and sent her an email to see if she could throw any more light on the cage. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe you Lisa, I just thought the cage was rather small to house two lions and thought it may have been used in some sort of promotion to do with the circus. She responded within the hour. Clare’s blog link is at the bottom of the reply but also click on this link from her blog to read other’s accounts of the night the lions escaped, they are very interesting especially the guy who carted the dead lions off in his van to be taxidermied.

Hi Shellie I love your blog, the photos of Lawrence are lovely. The cage at Wetherstones hasn't any connection to the Lawrence Lions, but as you can imagine it does sometimes add to the intrigue of the story. The Lawrence Lions escaped from the circus in 1978 when the circus was visiting Lawrence. The circus simply travelled to Lawrence in trucks. I published the children's picture book 'The Lawrence Lions' in 2012 and it has been a popular choice with tourists and locals alike.  I also have a blog that tells the story of the Lions.
I have done some research about the cage and at this stage have not come up with anything.  The original house owner bought it many years ago and it has been sitting in that section for possibly of 40 years. No one lives at the house presently.  If I find anymore information I will let you know. Pleased to see you had an enjoyable time in Lawrence. Regards Clare Blackmore   
Clare's blog is here- The Lawrence Lions

Here’s what happened to the Lawrence Lions, quite sad really & they look so young & relatively harmless although I bet it would have been scary being out in the open when they were on the loose. From Otago Museum, click on this link to see a photo of the lions-  

Sultan and Sonia, the Museum’s famous Lawrence Lions, escaped from Carlos’ Circus on 30 March 1978. At the time, the travelling circus was entertaining a crowd of 400 people in Lawrence, Central Otago. After their cage was mistakenly left unbolted, Sultan and Sonia made their break for freedom just as the evening show began. In the chaos that followed, a six-year-old boy was scratched on the face by Sonia, the fleeing lioness.  
On leaving the circus grounds, Sultan and Sonia wandered towards an adjacent field where a local rugby team was practising, before making their way back to the circus. Three-year-old Sultan, the male lion, tried to return to his cage but couldn’t get in. He was then shot by the local constable because of fears for public safety, a decision endorsed by the manager of Carlos’ Circus. Sonia was eventually corralled in a local resident’s garage. Unfortunately, she escaped through the back door before she could be captured and was later found in the hospital grounds. After two failed attempts to tranquilise her, she too was shot.

So there you go, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. Thanks Lisa for sending me down the path to find out more & thanks Clare for filling in the gaps & keeping the story of the Lawrence Lions alive for future generations.

Don't forget to check out the link I included above and here- The Final Chapter


  1. Hi, it was my father who shot the lions. He is a real animal lover and hated killing such magnificent creatures. However, Craig the 6 yr old boy had been quite badly injured along with his mother by Sonya the female, so it had to be.

    1. Hi Sarah, thanks so much for adding another piece of the jigsaw to story of the Lawrence Lions. I'm sure there must have been a lot of heartbreak on the night the lions escaped. Hopefully your Dad wasn't in the firing line afterwards (no pun intended) from animal lovers, as you say it had to be. And somebody had to do it.


Thank you for taking the time to leave a message, I love reading them! All comments are personally moderated by me and I will post and answer them as soon as possible, Shellie