At his­toric tourism gems across Egypt, hor­rific an­i­mal abuse is an ugly flaw

The Buffalo News - - WORLD NEWS - By Declan Walsh

CAIRO – A trip to the sto­ried pyra­mids of Giza was sup­posed to be a high­light of Noemi Has­zon’s Egyp­tian va­ca­tion. But min­utes later, the Hun­gar­ian tourist had re­treated into her tour bus, shaken and re­volted by what she had wit­nessed.

In­side the pyra­mids com­plex, ema­ci­ated horses panted and strained as they pulled bug­gies loaded with tourists up a steep slope. Driv­ers whipped them to make them go faster. Some horses slipped and stum­bled on the smooth tar­mac sur­face. Oth­ers had open wounds. De­spite the sum­mer heat, there was no wa­ter sup­ply.

“I was shocked,” Has­zon re­called. “Those poor horses. It was like an­other world.”

For years, the sense of won­der­ment ex­pe­ri­enced by vis­i­tors at Egypt’s great sites, like the pyra­mids of Giza or the Val­ley of the Kings in Luxor, has been spoiled by scenes of heart-rend­ing cru­elty to­ward the an­i­mals work­ing there.

In out­raged posts on Face­book or in emails to Egyp­tian an­i­mal rights groups, they have de­scribed col­laps­ing horses, sickly camels and ema­ci­ated mules. A bustling camel mar­ket out­side Cairo, where tourists are charged a fee to take pho­tos, fea­tures beat­ings of camels and an­i­mals with blood­ied faces. Ve­teri­nary hos­pi­tals in Cairo pro­vide treat­ment to a steady stream of sick, un­der­fed or beaten work­ing an­i­mals.

Now the cam­paign group Peo­ple for the Eth­i­cal Treat­ment of An­i­mals, or PETA, is call­ing on tourists to boy­cott all work­ing an­i­mals at Egypt’s ma­jor tourist sites. After appealing fruit­lessly for help to Egypt’s Tourism Min­istry, the group has re­leased graphic footage of abused horses and camels to drum up in­ter­na­tional sup­port for the cam­paign.

“Such abuse has no place in mod­ern tourism,” said Ash­ley Fruno, PETA’s direc­tor of an­i­mal as­sis­tance pro­grams.

But what con­sti­tutes eth­i­cal tourism in an im­pov­er­ished coun­try like Egypt is a mat­ter of de­bate, even among an­i­mal rights groups. An­i­mal rides pro­vide a liveli­hood for thou­sands of Egyp­tian fam­i­lies, and some groups ar­gue it is bet­ter to re­form their abu­sive ways rather than shun them en­tirely.

And many own­ers in­sist they treat their an­i­mals well – some kiss their camels on the lips to please tourists – and say they should not be pe­nal­ized for the mis­deeds of oth­ers.

Ahmed Kamel, a wiry young man who speaks sev­eral lan­guages, of­fers buggy rides around the pyra­mids for about $9. On a bustling, re­cent Fri­day af­ter­noon, he pat­ted his horse fondly as Egyp­tian pop mu­sic known as elec­tro shaabi blared from a speaker.

Cer­tainly, he ac­knowl­edged, some own­ers were abusers: “They work in the morn­ing, then go drink­ing in the af­ter­noon. They don’t care for any­thing.” But, he added, “I have to take care of my fam­ily. If you push us out, what will we do?” His horse, he said, was named for his daugh­ter. “I love her,” he added, not spec­i­fy­ing whether he was re­fer­ring to the girl or to the an­i­mal.

At the Brooke Hospi­tal for An­i­mals in Cairo’s Syeda Zainab dis­trict, Dr. Mo­hammed Ham­mad swung back a stall door to re­veal a skinny horse with pro­trud­ing hips and a large wound on its rear.

The horse was wounded by an ac­ci­dent at the pyra­mids that led to an in­fec­tion of its tes­ti­cles, which was now be­ing treated. “If you look into his eyes,” Ham­mad said, “you’ll see he’s not very happy.”

The hospi­tal, where many of the worst cases end up, was es­tab­lished in Cairo in 1934 by Dorothy Brooke, an English­woman who had been dis­tressed by the treat­ment of old war horses in Egypt. It now works across three con­ti­nents, treat­ing horses, don­keys and mules.

When it comes to tourism, the Brooke or­ga­ni­za­tion en­cour­ages tourists to be vig­i­lant of an­i­mal abuse in­stead of boy­cotting the rides en­tirely – urg­ing vis­i­tors to watch out for signs of mal­nu­tri­tion and to refuse to ride with an owner who whips his an­i­mals.

Rather than shun­ning the own­ers, Brooke tries to ca­jole them into bet­ter be­hav­ior, of­ten by appealing to their pockets.

Ham­mad pointed to an­other ail­ing horse. “I told the owner that if he heals rapidly, then he can work again,” he said. “And if we do noth­ing, he will die and be worth noth­ing.”

An­i­mals were once revered in Egypt. The an­cient Egyp­tians mum­mi­fied an­i­mals such as cats, dogs, mon­keys and birds as of­fer­ings to the gods or to help the an­i­mals reach the af­ter­life. In Novem­ber, ar­chae­ol­o­gists found a col­lec­tion of pre­served cats and scarab bee­tles in a tomb out­side Cairo.

But th­ese days, an­i­mal wel­fare is not a big is­sue in Egypt. The Giza Zoo is run-down and de­press­ing. Wild dogs roam the streets at night. Is­lamic cler­ics have op­posed eu­thana­sia of stray dogs, say­ing it con­tra­venes God’s will.

At the Birqash camel mar­ket, out­side Cairo, cru­elty is on open dis­play.

Camels hob­ble around on three legs, with the fourth tied up to pre­vent them run­ning away. Herders in flow­ing robes, wield­ing bam­boo staves, thrash them to keep them in line. Camels with blood-speck­led faces are a com­mon sight.

Ai­man Ram­dan, a camel trader, touched his prayer beads as he watched the scenes of abuse with quiet dis­dain.

Back home in Qena, about 300 miles to the south, peo­ple treated an­i­mals with re­spect, he said. “If a camel is in­jured, we heal it,” he said. “In win­ter, we set a fire to keep it warm.”

But in Cairo, a crowded mega­lopo­lis of noise and stress, peo­ple were more abu­sive. “It’s more ex­treme,” he said.

A spokes­woman for Egypt’s tourism min­is­ter, Ra­nia alMashat, and sev­eral se­nior of­fi­cials at her min­istry, did not re­spond to ques­tions about Egypt’s plans to com­bat an­i­mal cru­elty.

PETA pro­poses that tourists move be­tween the pyra­mids in dif­fer­ent ways, per­haps fol­low­ing the ex­am­ple of at­trac­tions such as the Colos­seum in Rome, where Seg­ways can be hired, or the Angkor Wat tem­ples in Cam­bo­dia, where elec­tric bi­cy­cles are an al­ter­na­tive to ele­phant rides.

Some re­forms are un­der­way. The govern­ment is build­ing a new vis­i­tor cen­ter at the pyra­mids, sched­uled to open this sum­mer, that is said to in­clude a separate area for horse and camel rides.

Ac­cord­ing to some lo­cal news re­ports, the area will in­clude fa­cil­i­ties to feed, wa­ter and give med­i­cal treat­ment to horses and camels.

Back home in Hun­gary after her trip to Egypt, Has­zon started an on­line pe­ti­tion call­ing on Egypt’s govern­ment to pre­vent cru­elty to work­ing an­i­mals at tourist sites. As of Satur­day, nearly 50,000 peo­ple had signed it.

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