Scorpio, the Leopard’s Diary

When Zee & Co came into being just as an idea, I told Robert Harbin that I would like to use a wild animal such as a tiger or a leopard or a cheetah, or even a lion, in my Act. Robert Harbin said that I was crazy and that the animal would “rip my throat open”. This, strange to say, happened about 15 years later. Nevertheless, when I next went to America I enrolled at a school in a wildlife park called the Enchanted Village in Los Angeles where they taught “Animal Affection Training.” I took a short course there for about 3 weeks and learnt the basic principles of handling wild animals by their “Affection Training,” which taught you to train the animal with only love, care and affection from a very early age. No whips, prods or sticks. I found that I couldn’t handle a tiger or a lion purely because of their weight and size, and that I was more at home with a cheetah or a leopard.

I certainly proved that Animal Affection Training works with Scorpio and Suki, my Persian Chinchilla cat. She was the daughter of the Kosset Carpet cat and she was a beauty, and knew it. She would behave just like Miss Piggy. But that’s another story! I had already seen Seigfried and Roy at the Lido in Paris where they had a tame cheetah which they used in their act in their last illusion. The excitement of seeing this beautiful live wild animal looking so elegant and cared for at the end of their act left a lasting impression with me.

I had been in touch with many zoos and wildlife parks to enquire about purchasing a leopard or cheetah cub, but was told that it was very rare for a private person to be allowed to buy an animal and that anyway I would have to get a Performing Animals License and also have some training in handling a wild animal. All the animals that had been abandoned by their parents at the zoo were hand reared by the zoo staff.  So that was it! I duly trotted off to the City of London where the offices were and talked with the gentleman in charge. I explained what my plan was and that I was completely serious and dedicated to my mission. I told him that I had been to a training school in America and that the animal would live with me and that I was a responsible person. Of course in these present days with animal rights and the ban on all circus animals, the whole thing would be quite impossible, and quite rightly so. However, all the animal acts that I had the pleasure to work with treated their animals as part of their family, after all they were their bread and butter. One chimp act actually had the chimps eat with them at table at mealtimes.                                                                                                      

 Finally all my running around paid off and I was contacted by Grahame Jones from Southam Wildlife Park. He told me that a leopard of his had had 2 cubs and she had attacked and eaten one.  So they had to take the one that was left from her cage for fear that she would attack and eat him. He was 2 weeks old and was born on the 13th of November 1976.  I took this as an omen as November 13th is my birthday. 

Scorpio baby picture


Scorpio and Suki “Babes in Arms”


Going for a ride in my Hoodie.

So that was how Scorpio came into my life.Ray Jackson, who was my partner and I were prepared for his arrival. We had taken the dining table out of the lounge in our flat and laid a square of linoleum on top of the carpet with plastic sheeting where his cage was going.The cage was large enough for me to crawl into.  He was a little bundle no bigger that my hand who would lie there helpless. I bottle fed him every 4 hours all day and twice at night with milk and Complan, mixed with Ostermilk and Farex, with one raw egg in the morning mixed into his bottle, plus all the usual vitamins for 2 months. I took him to the vet for all his shots and also a regular check-up. Then he had to be weaned off the bottle and fed with raw meat, which was a production in itself. He hated the meat and just wanted the bottle. Finally I mixed the minced meat with the milk and cut a large hole in the teat and fed him that way and soon he grew to like the meat, which for a time I used to cut into inch size squares until he started growing and then he would just eat whole chunks of chicken, bones and all. Whenever I was in the apartment I would let him out of his cage so that could run around and play hide and seek. Suki would disappear into the bedroom during these times or rush into his cage which he had vacated. Scorpio thought when he played hide and seek with me that if he had only one eye showing when he peeked around a corner that he wasn’t seen. So I would make out I couldn’t see him saying, “Where’s Scorpio?” “I can’t see Scorpio.Then he would pounce on me and run away and hide again, with one eye showing!  All this time he would chirp, chirp, chirp like a bird. That was his only sound until one day I was in the Lounge sitting in an armchair with my back to him and suddenly I heard this deep sounding rumbling growl. The hairs on the back of my head stood up and I froze. His voice had broken and I nearly had to change my pants!  I thought he was going to attack me any minute, but he just came up to me purring in a lower key and sat on my lap. He was just telling me that he had grown up.  Every night I would take him out walking on a lead at the back of Barons Keep where there was grass and trees and one eucalyptus tree which he just loved and he would roll around in the fallen leaves.  There was a rule in Barons Keep No Animals! I knew the residents there would just raise merry hell if they knew that they were sharing the Keep with a leopard. Well, they never found out except for my next door neighbor who was rather grand and asked me one day, “How’s your Awwwcerlot?”I think she meant Ocelot, but I didn’t bother to correct her and changed the subject. So there I was in West Kensington with a live leopard. Visiters became very rare, understandably     


On the 28thof November 1976: Scorpio weighed 3 lbs. From nose to bum, he measured 15inches. His tail was 9inches. A leopard’s tail is on average three quarters the length of its body. His eyes were very cloudy and I was told he would not see clearly for about 2 months until his pupils showed.


                          Scorpio and Ray                                              

After his last feed at night I would put him on a hot water bottle and most of the time he would sleep through the night. He would use Suki’s litter tray which he would flood and to watch Suki trying to find a dry spot was hilarious. So I had to get 2 litter boxes –  his and hers.

On the 12th of January 1977: Scorpio weighed 4lbs. From nose to bum, he measured 17 inches. His tail measured 10 inches.  

             Tug of War                    

On the 26th of January 1977:  Scorpio weighed 6lbs. From nose to bum, he measured 18 inches. His tail measured 11 inches.  

Scorpio weight training

On the 2nd of February 1977:Scorpio weighed 7lbs. From nose to bum, he measured 19 inches. His tail measured 12 inches.  

Scorpio had started eating the hearts and kidneys that were put out for Suki. He suddenly decided he would try them. I took him out at night on his lead and he quickly adjusted to the traffic noise. He enjoyed his nightly walks. He had all his vitamin shots and I continued with his daily vitamins, etc.

Scorpio checking out the waste disposel

On the 26th of March 1977: Scorpio was 19 weeks old and weighed 20lbs.

On the 30th of April 1977: Scorpio was 6 months old. He was growing fast.

The West Kensington Leopard

By July I decided that I would return him to Southam Wildlife Park where I had an enormous cage built for him by the entrance to the Park so that he could see all the visitors and he would not be lonely when I wasn’t there. For the first 2 weeks I stayed close by and would stay with him in his cage and also take him for long walks. I left all the clothes that I would wear in the cage with him, so that he still had my smell. This way I slowly got him used to my absence.  He loved Southam and was very happy whenever he was there.  He was slowly being groomed for his stage debut, which, when the time came, he took to as to the manner born.

Scorpio sharing his lunch

The whole time Scorpio was with me I fed him by hand. This is quite unheard of with a wild animal, but that was the trust that we had together, and that was the trust I had in him.

Scorpio was always hand fed.  Should he get annoyed with me, he would give me a little nip on the leg, never drawing blood, but just to tell me that he wasn’t happy with me.

Scorpio was just like a household cat with the same instincts, except that he was much, much larger. Cats have an uncanny knowledge of whenever you are going to leave them.

Scorpio in Southam Wildlife Park

Usually they end up sitting in your suitcase whilst you are packing. The same went for Scorpio.I was living alone in San Simeon, our villa on the Mijas Costa, Malaga, which had taken nearly 18 months to build.  Everyone had died, my father, my mother and Ray. I was going back to England to do a show called “Tom Thumb” for Jamie Phillips, my agent, and Dougie Squires. Without thinking, I started to pack all my props and illusions directly in front of Scorpio’s cage.


This was something I should never have done. If Ray had been alive he would have made sure that I packed everything somewhere else where Scorpio couldn’t see.

But I was drinking a lot and I just wasn’t thinking. All the time I was packing I just couldn’t understand why Scorpio was getting more and more restless. He would pace around in his cage, jumping on and off his platforms, and he just wouldn’t stay still. I still went into his cage to feed him every day but there was something wrong.

Feeding Scorpio in his cage,

One evening after I had been drinking a little, could be a lot.  I went into his cage to feed him. I was moving very fast as I was having visitors and I hadn’t shaved or showered or put my hairpiece on.    (Zee always wore a hairpiece; it was part of Zee’s image.) The date was October 18th October 1991. 

    Scorpio was on his shelf and he went to jump down and give me a little nip to tell me that he was unhappy with me, but I was already bending and instead of him nipping my leg as usual, his teeth went into my throat. So there I was laid out in the cage with blood pouring everywhere and with a leopard that had gone back onto his shelf in complete shock. I think he was more shocked than I was.If he had wanted to kill me, he could have. I was on the floor helpless. The cap that I was wearing was lying somewhere on the floor and there was blood, lots of bloodall mine! I grabbed my cap and somehow got out of the cage and locked it. Then I went into the kitchen and took a tea towel and tied it around my throat. I was shaking like a leaf, but being the pro that I am, I had the foresight to put my hairpiece back on before I did anything else. After all the show must go on! I rang a neighbor and he came over. While I was laid out on my bed waiting for an English doctor to arrive, he told me that I had to have hot tea with lots of sugar for the shock. My neighbor brought me the tea and I chastised him for using the best china. I must have been fucking mad! There I was bleeding to death and I was worried about the china! What is wrong with me? The Doctor duly arrived and I insisted that he stitch up the horrible flap of skin that was hanging off my throat. He said “I shouldn’t.I said he should. He told me that I needed to go to hospital, but I said that I had to stay in the villa with Scorpio. Anyway he stitched me up with ordinary cotton and a large darning needle and no cleansing agent. He was not prepared for an emergency.I did not know that a bite has to heal from the inside out. He gave me a tranquilizer. At least that was one thing he had in his medical bag. My neighbor left and I lay there thinkingI had completely lost my nerve. I knew I just couldn’t go back into the cage with Scorpio. What was I to do? What was going to happen to Scorpio? The following morning I called the vet and explained to him what had happened. He came over and told me that Scorpio had to be put down. I lay on the bed completely confused, really in some kind of stupor. Anyway, the deed was done and I had agreed to it. I was a murderer.

A few days later on October 21st, I had to go to the Marbella Clinic because there was a horrible smell and puss coming from my neck. There I was put on a gurney and they rushed over the road to a café where they grabbed a doctor, who came along with a knife and slit open all the fancy stitching that my English doctor had done on my throat. To say that I was in shock is an understatement!  I had told them that I had been bitten by a very large dog. How do you explain a leopard?

On reflection and after a great deal of soul searching I realized that I was to blame for the whole accident. It was entirely my fault. If I hadn’t packed in front of him! If I hadn’t been drunk! If! If! If! Scorpio was innocent.  He was my baby and I was to blame for having him killed. So that was one more gone, my father had died on June 20th June 1987, my mother on December 1st December 1987, Ray on October 25th 1989 and now Scorpio on October 19th 1991. All dead! Suki followed soon after as she was 16 years old and very infirm. Then I was completely alone in a bloody big villa with just a load of memories. I did ask the Vet to “save a shot for me” but he wasn’t listening.

Scorpio and Zee from the “Starburst” T.V. Series

 Scorpio in Madrid at the Melia Castilla Hotel with John Moule, my favourite No.1 Assistant who is now my landlord.



IRAWAN SUBINGAR is a professional photographer from Jakarta, Indonesia. He decided to take up photography after retiring from his previous profession as a director and producer of films and videos. His work has been published in National Geographic and he also runs a photography school in Indonesia.


3 responses to “Scorpio, the Leopard’s Diary

  1. boz

    June 21, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    Fascinating stuff Eric !


  2. Janet Salter

    July 22, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    Bless yer cotton socks Eric. I was one of the Elizabeth Roberts dancers at casino de Paris (Janet Salter) in 1973 – I was the short thin one with hairy legs. I loved seeing and hearing about scorpio XXX

  3. Adrienne

    March 25, 2013 at 5:23 am

    Eric – I always tell people about when my Mother and I came to visit you and Scorpio at the villa and was pleased to see the picture at the beginning of this blog was one that I took. What a magnificent animal and I have video of my petting him through the bars of the cage. The incident was very sad that you had to lose him like that and you were so lucky to be alive. I have the picture in this room on top of one of my book cases!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: