April 27, 2018
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African lions land at Belfast high school

By Abigail Curtis, BDN Staff

BELFAST, Maine — Something wild is happening at Belfast Area High School — and it’s just fine with the teachers.

Two stuffed and mounted African lions that were donated by the Smithsonian Institution to Nokomis Regional High School will be on loan, at least for a year, to the Belfast school, where they will be displayed in the front lobby for all to see.

“We are home of the Lions,” art teacher Chuck Hamm said Monday, referring to the school’s mascot. “It’s an honor to have them, it really is.”

Administrative Assistant Marcia Ames first learned that Nokomis science teacher Howard Whitten was looking for good homes for 24 animal mounts in a Sept. 23 Bangor Daily News story. The animals most recently had been on display at the Maine Discovery Museum in Bangor.

“She thought, ‘We have got to have them,’” Hamm said.

Although Whitten has been inundated by “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds” of phone calls and e-mails from all over the world from people wanting the animals after the article was picked up by The Associated Press, he thought that Belfast seemed just about right for the male and female lions.

“That was our intent — that these animals go to schools and museums,” he said Monday. “[At Belfast] they’re real excited about it, and that’s why we’re here. We want people to get excited about these animals. They deserve it.”

Most of the other animals will find a permanent home in a new natural history museum planned for Palmyra, he said, adding that some of the recent phone calls and messages he received came from museums in Africa, a lodge in Canada and even a prisoner in Arizona.

“All the animals have found homes,” he said.

RSU 20 Superintendent Bruce Mailloux said last week that he was excited to have the animals gracing the halls of the school. The student senate is going to purchase a glass enclosure for the entryway, so the animals will be both safe and seen.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “They’re high-quality pieces.”

According to Hamm, who already has had some of his art portfolio class students at work drawing the lions, there is something very special about them.

“Not that many people get to be close to any lions,” he said. “They’re very compelling animals.”

Hamm leads occasional photo safaris in Tanzania, where lions still roam, and one of his photos showing a majestic-looking lion at rest in the desert is prominently displayed in the lobby and on the school’s website. He said he hopes to find out where the stuffed lions came from and also intends to educate students about the animals.

“There are only about 22,000 lions left in the whole world,” he said. “We’re going to take really careful care of them.”

Senior Emma Hamm, his daughter, was one of the students who drew the animals in their temporary home in a locked music room.

“I think they’re a fantastic addition to our school,” she said.

Music teacher John Cameron said that since the lions appeared at the back of his classroom, he has used the song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” to warm up the chorus.

Ames said, while looking at the animals, that she was glad they made the journey to Belfast Area High School.

“They’re just beautiful,” she said. “Words can’t really describe it.”

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