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Day of Dolphins: Leo & Nemo Doing Swimmingly After Flight From Egypt

November 23, 1988

PARIS (AP) _ Leo and his ailing partner Nemo - two performing dolphins that spent a year in a hotel swimming pool in Cairo - were spirited to sanctuary in France early Wednesday, slipping through a legal net.

The dolphins were whisked out of Egypt on a special pre-dawn flight and convalescing in a pool at Marineland Cote d’Azur in Antibes pending the outcome of a legal decision.

″They’re in very, very good spirits. They’re eating extremely well, eating high quality herring,″ said Dr. David Taylor, a veterinarian who accompanied them on the flight out. ″And if all goes well, I expect each of them to be plump and have double chins by Christmas.″

Nemo is suffering from pneumonia, liver trouble and skin problems, Taylor said in a telephone interview. He has scars under his ″arm pits″ or flippers from improper transport in the past, Taylor added.

Both animals had grown lethargic after a year of swimming in circles in the pool of Cairo’s Meridien Hotel.

The dolphins were brought to the Meridien a year ago to perform in the main pool for guests during the winter season. But then they became stranded.

The hotel said it could not continue to house the dolphins, but their owner, the International Dolphin Show Co. headed by Bruno Lienhardt of Switzerland, has said it had nowhere to take them.

Meridien Hotel general manager Edouard Speck has said the hotel is taking the dolphins’ owners to court to decide their fate, and a hearing was scheduled for Sunday in Cairo.

Speck said Wednesday that four days ago the hotel obtained permission from the Agriculture Ministry for the dolphins to leave.

On Wednesday, the hotel was informed of a court injunction canceling the departure order, ″but meanwhile they were already out of the country,″ Speck said.

While the hotel says its dolphin contract expired May 31, Lienhardt claims the deal runs through May 1989. He said the Meridien told him in April to get rid of the dolphins so the pool would be free for summer guests.

″I traveled everywhere to find a suitable pool for the dolphins,″ Lienhardt said from Cairo. ″I couldn’t find anything in one month.″

Taylor said travel plans for the dolphins on Air France were changed when he learned of the injunction.

″We decided we would have to dissemble,″ Taylor said. ″We busily found another small, excellent airliner in Egypt.″

The dolphins were put aboard a Boeing 707 of the Egyptian airline ZAS at 5 a.m. Two ambulances met the plane in Nice and transported the animals to nearby Antibes.

″It was a very smooth, fast operation,″ Taylor said.

Lienhardt arrived at the Meridien Tuesday night and ″started making a lot of noise and shouting about us kidnapping his dolphins,″ Speck said.

He doubted the Egyptian government would try to bring the dolphins back.

″It’s a fait accompli, and the government knows there is no good pool for them here,″ Speck said.

″What counts at the bottom of the pile is the animals’ welfare, said Taylor, who is a specialist on exotic animals with the International Zoo Veterinary Group based in Lightwater, outside London.

He foresaw a gloomy fate for the dolphins had they not made the pre-dawn getaway.

″While lawyers argued, the animals would have continued to stay in a place of great risk,″ he said.

Leo, born in 1979, and Nemo, born in 1980, were trained as performing dolphins. Lienhardt’s company also brought two seals, Neptune and Luca, to the Meridien a year ago. Luca died from neglect, according to Speck, and three months ago the hotel got court approval to transfer Neptune to the Cairo Zoo.

″When the dolphins are fit, I may well say, for the first time in eight years, let them have the experience of females,″ Taylor said. ″That would be part of their psychological redevelopment.″

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