The Tragic Story of the Berberovs, a Soviet Family Who Raised Lions as Their Pets at Home in the 1970s

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The story of the Berberovs – a family from Baku (now the capital of Azerbaijan), in the 1970s, kept a lion in an ordinary Soviet apartment – is capable of both moving and horrifying at the same time. Because they had two lions. And if the first – King – was grateful to Lev and Nina Berberov for their salvation and had an agreeable character, then the other – King II – turned out to be a killer. He sent the mistress to the hospital and killed her first child, a 14-year-old boy.

The architect Lev Lvovich Berberov (Lev Lvovich literally means ‘lion. son of lion’) and his family had many pets. In their 100 sq. m (1000 sq. feet) apartment there was enough room for cats, dogs, parrots, hedgehogs, snakes, raccoons… So when his wife brought home a dying lion cub from the zoo, he was not much surprised.
While walking at the zoo, Nina Berberova and her daughter, Eva saw a sick lion cub abandoned by his mother. With the permission of the Zoo’s director, the family brought the lion to their apartment and named him King. Soon, King the lion became a domestic animal and was loved by family members.

In a short time, not only Soviet, but also foreign press was interested in King. Many articles were written, and many TV programs were prepared about him. Even the King starred several movies such as Lion Left House, A Boy, a Girl, and a Lion, The Unbelievable Adventures of Italians in Russia. After that, Lev Berberov left his architectural job and began to negotiate with film studios as King’s producer. Nina Berberova said that their neighbors were not satisfied being adjacent to a lion. They were living in constant fear and anxiety.

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