The Zoological Society of Montreal to the Rescue

By Anna Hayward, McGill School of Information Studies

David and Bess, flying from their home at the palace of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie in Addis Ababa, moved to Montreal at only 4 months old. Like many in 1967, they came for the excitement that Montreal’s Expo ’67 promised. But unlike many Expo goers, David and Bess were lion cubs.

David and Bess. Photo by Miss Claire Vanier, found in the Society’s journal The Lynx (Vol. 1, No. 4 Summer 1967).

David and Bess. Photo by Miss Claire Vanier, found in the Society’s journal The Lynx (Vol. 1, No. 4 Summer 1967).

The royal cubs were flown in as part of the Ethiopian Pavilion. From their arrival, the Zoological Society of Montreal’s general manager and founding father, Gerald T. Iles, was heavily involved in their care and welfare. In fact, he visited the two cubs almost every day in the summer of 1967, protecting them from malevolent maintenance workers who he said tormented and threw cigarette butts at the felines.

The wild animals seem to have had a real affection for Mr. Iles. As he wrote in the Society’s journal The Lynx in 1967 “I tried [giving them] vanilla ice cream. This was much appreciated. After finishing the treat David would often give me a lick up my face which was hard to take. In time Bess would also show her appreciation in the same way.”

He quickly decided that live animals should never have been brought to Expo ’67, but all the same he tried to keep them happy and healthy. The latter pursuit was no easy task – from their arrival, the lions were plagued with infections, abscesses, and illness. Mr. Iles spent a considerable amount of time with the lions on his lap, driving them back and forth between the Zoological Society’s veterinarian and the pavilion.

Gerald Iles shows David and Bess a Mirror. Photo by Mary Burns, found in the Society’s journal The Lynx (Vol 3, No. 2 December 1974).

Gerald Iles shows David and Bess a Mirror. Photo by Mary Burns, found in the Society’s journal The Lynx (Vol 3, No. 2 December 1974).

As the summer ended, and the Zoological Society had written several angry letters about the treatment of David and Bess to all parties involved in their immigration to Canada, the Society was ready to put up a fight to adopt the lions. But no fight was necessary, it took only one letter to convince the City of Montreal to relinquish their ownership of the cubs, a further tribute to the city’s lack of interest in the lions’ well-being. As winter set in, a generous member of the Society offered to house the lions at McGill’s Macdonald campus.

What happened to Bess and David after that is unclear but what is clear is the kind and charitable nature of the Zoological Society of Montreal. Throughout its 52 year existence, the goal to protect the wildlife of Canada, or any foreign wildlife visitors, was the Society’s driving mission. Founded in 1964, the Zoological Society of Montreal brought attention to conservation issues through field trips, guest speakers, and large projects, including their own endangered species pavilion at the post-Expo exhibit Man and His World in 1975. The Society also contributed to other conservation initiatives through benevolent donations, animal adoptions, and support.

We are currently processing the archives of the Zoological Society of Montreal to provide access to these rich records to our research community (MSG 1164). We would like to thank the Zoological Society of Montreal for donating their papers and supporting the processing.

To see the lion cubs in action, click here (see 00:32-01:32 mark).