Belfast Area High School has long called itself the “Home of the Lions.”

Now, thanks to two new arrivals at the school, that name will be accurate not only in the symbolic, school spirit sense, but in the literal sense as well. That’s because the school now has two mounted African lions in its possession, and the plan is to put them on display for everyone entering the school to see.

Art teacher Charles Hamm explained the rather unusual path the lions took to arrive at the high school. They were originally part of the Smithsonian Institution’s collection, and the taxidermy work had been done by the Jonas brothers.

Hamm was quick to point out that no, it wasn’t  those Jonas brothers — it turns out there is a renowned taxidermy studio in Colorado by the same name, which has been in existence decades longer than the perhaps better-known musical group.

In 2004, according to Hamm, the Smithsonian decided to display only animal mounts — that’s the preferred term for them in taxidermy circles, as opposed to “stuffed animals” — that had died of natural causes or had been injured in the wild and euthanized. The idea was to not display animals that had been killed just for the sake of being put on display.

Nokomis High School in Newport ended up getting a truckload of animal mounts from the Smithsonian that did not meet the institution’s new standards. Nokomis got the animals, Hamm said, because it has a taxidermy program as part of its curriculum.

Nokomis did not have space for all of the animals, and some of them went to the Maine Discovery Museum in Bangor. Those animals were recently returned from the museum to the high school, and as the school still did not have room for all of them, in a recent article in the Bangor Daily News, a call was put out for good homes for the animals. The two African lions were among those animals.

Some people thought they could have these animals on display in their own house, but Hamm said “home” was meant in a broader sense — a place where the animals could stay and be taken care of properly.

BAHS Administrative Assistant Marcia Ames saw the article in the Bangor paper and brought it to Hamm’s attention. Ames knew that Hamm, an avid photographer who has made multiple trips to Africa, would be interested in the lions in particular.

Hamm said he wrote to Howard Whitten, the teacher who oversees the taxidermy program at Nokomis. He told Whitten of his personal affinity for Africa, as well as the school’s connection with lions, as its mascot. Hamm added that the Belfast school would like to build an educational display around the lions, and that the animals would indeed be coming to a good home.

Whitten agreed, and Hamm went over a few days later with an RSU 20 bus driver to pick up the lions in an enclosed truck. They’re currently residing in the fine arts wing of the high school, but Hamm said the plan is to have them installed in a glass case in the high school lobby, where everyone coming into the school can see them.

The display will also likely feature educational panels describing the lions, and Hamm believes that some classes — such as his own art classes — will be able to tie projects in with the lions.

For now, the lions are on loan to BAHS for one year. Hamm is hopeful, however, that their presence can become permanent if the school shows it can be a good steward of the animals.

“It’s pretty neat to be handling Smithsonian specimens,” said Hamm.