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Wednesday, 21 February, 2001, 12:47 GMT
Russia's lion queen dies
Irina Bugrimova
Bugrimova and her lions understood each other
Russian circus legend Irina Bugrimova has died peacefully at the age of 91 following a lifetime spent taming lions in the ring.

She died after a long illness in her Moscow apartment in the company of mementoes of an illustrious career.

Irina Bugrimova
She never let injury keep her out of the ring
Joining the circus as a teenager in Soviet Russia, she started out as a motorcyclist and acrobat but soon turned to the big cats she would be taming right up to the age of 67.

Her work took her all over the world and she was decorated in her home country as a "Hero of Socialist Labour" and "For Services to the Fatherland".

A cat called Caesar

Irina Bugrimova tamed some 70 lions in all but her favourite was a male named Caesar, with whom she worked for 23 years.

They would maw me, maim me, attack me - you name it, they would do it.

Irina Bugrimova

Caesar was not indifferent to his mistress either, once rescuing her when another lion became aggressive.

In fact, it was a lifetime of danger for the circus star.

Circus lions with Irina Bugrimova
One of the lion-tamer's big cats once saved her life
"They would maw me, maim me, attack me - you name it, they would do it. I had it all but, as you can see, here I am sitting in an armchair today," she said in an interview for Russia's NTV channel in her 90th year.

After every hospital visit, every operation, she would be back in the cage.

"They couldn't get another lass like me," she said.

The secret of success

Irina Bugrimova was not only the USSR's first woman lion-tamer, she was an innovator, designing her own tricks.

They obeyed because I wanted them to do it

Irina Bugrimova
The most famous was probably her "lion swing" where she rocked above the ring with one of her big cats.

She put her success with the lions down to willpower:

"I would go into the cage and get down to work. In other words, I would do everything I wanted to do and they obeyed because I wanted them to do it."

Lion swing
Irina Bugrimova's "lion-swing" was an invention all of her own
On another occasion, she said that if you wanted to tame a lion you had to turn into a lion yourself.

Irina Bugrimova is said to have never struck one of her charges in anger and in later years she became a leader of Russia's society for the protection of animals.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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