President Theodore Roosevelt and family were prolific pet owners and animal lovers. Their menagerie included dogs and cats, but counted among the family pets were also a badger named Josiah, snakes, kangaroo rats, a flying squirrel, and more. The First Family also received some very exotic pets during their time in the White House – such as the time they were the recipients of a lion.
Perhaps one of the greatest ironies about Roosevelt is that for all his love of animals and pets, he was also a prolific hunter. He came from an era which allowed and encouraged hunting of large game animals, and during his lifetime he had shot at least 3 lions, as well as many mountain lions, even taking a trip into Yellowstone Park for one of his hunting excursions. Roosevelt, when comparing lions with grizzly bears, elephants, rhinoceros, and buffalo, considered the lion to be “the most dangerous of all these five animals.”
On December 17th, 1903 Roosevelt received a letter from Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II. In his letter, the Emperor thanks Roosevelt for the gifts that Roosevelt had sent, reinforces a desire to maintain good relations, and states that he is sending Roosevelt gifts of his own – 2 elephant tusks and 2 lions.
Roosevelt had time to decide how he wanted to handle these gifts, as the ocean crossing and subsequent red tape took months. In late March, 1904, the lion arrived in the states and was turned over to the National Zoological Park. The lion, subsequently named Joe, was in poor condition after its long journey and had to be nursed back to health. However, a report in the NY Times stated that Joe did have the strength to make known his displeasure with the whole affair – he apparently left the imprint of his teeth on any crew members who dared go near him.
Joe never made it to the White House, and lived the remainder of his days in the National Zoo.