Senior Editor Eihab Boraie returns to the Giza Zoo to capture on video the horrific conditions causing regular death of animals. To find out how we can end the cycle of animal abuse, we reached out to activists who created a draft law to protect animals, which the government continues to ignore.
Two years ago, I reported on the horrid conditions at the Giza Zoo after taking one of their shocking 'behind the cage' misery photo tours. At the time, I had hoped that the photos of the outrageous abuse would garner enough local attention to create change. I failed, but the memories refuse to fade. And when I learned that the elephant I had visited had recently passed, I felt compelled to try to raise the issue again. This time, I tried to capture the horror on film and reached out to both local and international animal activists to figure out the best strategy and how you can help pressure the government to discuss and improve animal welfare in Oum el Donia.To some Egyptians, the Giza Zoo is one of the last affordable places available to 'entertain' a family, but to others who have functional eyes and compassionate hearts, it is nothing less than a cruel shop of animal horror. Some choose to blame the illegal practices on a business model that fails to either provide enough income to properly care for the animals or offer a proper wage for employees and essential zoo maintenance. “Until a couple of years ago, the ticket was 25 piastres and then went up to one pound, but now stands at EGP 5. The ticket price definitely needs to be more than that, and resources collected should go to the zoo. What I have come to understand is that all the resources go to the Ministry of Finance and then the zoo is given a yearly allowance,” explains animal activist and co-founder of ESMA, Mona Khalil.The lack of properly allocated funds causes a myriad of illegal practices to develop, but none as damaging as the workers allowing people to abuse animals for a few extra pounds in an attempt to make a liveable wage. The corruption is so brazen they even advertise it, offering photo tours behind the cages with drugged lion cubs, among other abused animals. “The backdoor photography tours are illegal, but the photographers doing it have permission,” Khalil expresses frankly. Regretfully, I had paid for the tour to expose what was going on and was completely heartbroken when I heard the elephant I was pictured with the last time had died. “The elephant that recently died there [Giza Zoo] has been chained by her front right leg and her back left leg for over 35 years, standing in the same place. The one they have now is unchained because she has a problem with her leg because animals in the wild do not sleep on cement. Elephants need a grassy ground, water area, and access to hay. Keeping the elephant in this place is inhumane,” Khalil explains.
The elephant that recently died there [Giza Zoo] has been chained by her front right leg and her back left leg for over 35 years standing in the same place
For over a decade, Mona Khalil has worked alongside The Egyptian Society of Animal Friends exposing and challenging the illegal practices at all of Egypt's Zoos. There is no shortage of severe and nightmarish cases of abuse, and every time word spreads of another ridiculous death, Mona Khalil can be found on television trying to rally Egyptians to demand that the government end the abuse. The underlining thread connecting each of these cases comes down to mismanagement and a lack of trained animal professionals. This lack of knowledge was blatantly apparent when three bears died from broken necks. “They say the bears broke their necks fighting each other because it was mating season. This is a lie, otherwise why are they letting them be together? It seems that because it was a national holiday and the bears were getting hysterical from the behaviour of the visitors, the keepers decided to give the bears a tranquilliser, but they became really dizzy and fell breaking their necks,” Khalil describes.There are several similar cases like the giraffe that authorities claimed committed suicide. “The zoo stayed more than four years without any giraffes because not a single reputable zoo was willing to agree to do an exchange or sell the Giza Zoo any giraffes because of their reputation. In the end, they said they had to buy a giraffe from a trader who had giraffes that were born in captivity. Despite the fact that they blame all the negligence on a lack of resources, they still managed to find $250,000 to bring them to the Giza Zoo,” Khalil recounts.The question becomes where did they get this money? One of the photographers I talked to at the zoo claimed that a company was paying the zoo EGP 100K per month for the exclusive rights to take behind the cage photos. The amount may be subject to scrutiny, but no one can argue that it has become an official attraction at the zoo. Meanwhile, the zoo sells lions and tigers to anyone willing to buy, starting from EGP 25K, according to Khalil.
Even more shocking than the illegal selling of wildlife is the baffling fact that there's a secret dog and cat breeding programme. “We knew they had dogs and cats and are breeding them. They said that some people pay them to take their animals because they don't want them anymore. The most ridiculous thing we found at the dog house is that they had a wolf living with the dogs, which should never be allowed because both animals are natural enemies,” Khalil had stated on Dream TV a few months back.It continues to be difficult to prove the extent of illegal activity, as authorities fails to provide any records of the animals that reside in Egyptian zoos. “The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Agreement entails that any country that has wildlife must have each animal microchipped so that they can be tracked. Not a single animal in any of Egypt's 8 zoos has a microchip. There are a lot of illegal things happening, but the problem is not knowing any numbers or having data on animals, such as what kind of nutritional problems they have; and this is the case regarding the major mother zoo in Egypt. So can you only imagine what is happening in all the other 7 zoos in Egypt?” Khalil says.
As shocking as the Giza Zoo may look, the conditions are infinitely worse at the other zoos scattered across Egypt, where cages are filled with garbage and visitors show no respect to the animals, going so far as breaking into their enclosures and throwing rocks at the animals.When I visited last week, the sight of guests banging on cages was commonplace and at no point did employees attempt to stop anyone. There's no consideration for the conditions in which the animals are kept, and I was almost driven to madness, myself, by the loud and repetitive obnoxious sounds coming from the vendors directly in front of the miserable-looking lion. Incredibly, this paled in comparison to the suffering of another fellow lion whose face was a bloody mess and appeared dead until he briefly sat up before collapsing again. The hyena cages were atrociously filthy and cramped, while many of the animals looked emaciated, with some resorting to eating garbage thrown into their enclosure.
What many forget is that the zoos are a stain on Egypt's image and its peoples’ character. How could the nation allow this to be happening? Any tourist that visits the zoo immediately goes online to warn others of the abuse, telling them not to visit. This is exactly what happened when Julia Limonova, a Russian living in Dahab, visited the Giza Zoo, forever changing the way she viewed zoos. “I think that visit changed my opinion about all zoos. In Moscow, we have a zoo that's not as bad, there's space for animals and they don't look sad, but then I realised how stupid it is to cage animals for people's entertainment. If the Giza Zoo wants to look good on an international level, they have to change something regarding the living conditions of animals in the zoos. Just visit TripAdvisor, the reviews and comments are terrible,” Limonova says. Disturbed by what she saw on her visit, Limonova felt compelled to try to do something and started a petition with her friend, hoping to spark international pressure to close Egypt's zoos, or at least change them for the better. “We are trying to collect as many signatures as possible. After that, we hope the international media will help it go viral and pressure the government to shut it down or at least improve the conditions for animals.”Khalil believes that petitions simply don't work in Egypt, but internationally when a petition garners a lot of attention on social media in a short period of time, it sometimes entices the media to cover the issue and share its viral status. “Nothing will change unless the president mentions the issue. The biggest pressure we can put on them is if the media catches the attention of people, both internationally and locally, on this issue. They fear the media,” Khalil says authoritatively. Countless animal activists like Khalil have exhausted every avenue over the years to press for change. “There's no law for the keeping of animals, behaviours, natural habitats, or nutrition. This is why we, the society working for animal welfare, have been working since 2004 on drafting a law to present to the Minister of Agriculture to get it to the parliament for their approval. We have worked in cooperation with official government veterinarians, lawmakers, animal welfare groups, wildlife departments, police departments dealing with the trafficking of wildlife. It took years, but every time we send it to the Ministry of Agriculture, they just ignore it and don't even attempt to bring it to parliament for discussion. We are not asking for far-fetched ideas, we’re just trying to preserve the life that God gave them,” Khalil describes with frustration.
The Animal Care and Protection Draft Law contains 36 articles that set fines and prison terms on a wide range of animal welfare issues including:
Prohibiting the sale of animals that are still breast feeding
Requiring permits and instituting inspections of zoos, circuses, pet stores, and any individuals selling wild animals
Banning and setting heavy fines on organised animal fights
Imposing penalties on those who poison or abandon animals
Essentially, the document lays the groundwork for establishing animal right laws that should exist, but for some reason, don't in Egypt. This lack of animal care is why Egypt has been expelled from WAZA (World Association of Zoos and Aquariums) and PAAZA (Pan-African Association of Zoos and Aquaria). As it stands, they are trying to rejoin the African association, but have made no efforts to improve conditions. Hopefully the state's request will be rejected until they move animals to bigger spaces, reduce the number of animals they have to ensure they can meet nutritional requirements, microchip them all and keep proper records of their health, replace cages and cement floors with enclosures that mimic the species’ natural habitats, end the illegal photo tours, hire a team of animal specialists, provide the animals at least one day off, and dismiss employees allowing abuse for tips.
Fighting for animal rights isn't an attempt to undermine the rights of the people, but rather it highlights our humanity. Ideally, Egypt would just close all their zoos and convert them into affordable parks, but that isn't likely to happen anytime soon. Animals are dying and being tortured. Not just at the Giza Zoo, but in all of Egypt's zoos at this very moment. The quickest way to help is to fight for the improvement of their conditions by pushing local MPs and the Minister of Agriculture to discuss the Animal Care and Protection Draft Law in the parliament. Those living abroad can help by signing the petition and spreading awareness of this animal crisis on social media. Those living in the country could also sign the petition, but more importantly, should speak up when they see abuse and spread awareness that paying to visit zoos is the same as paying for the animal’s plight.
To sign the petition click here.
To read the draft law in full click here.
Videography by Federico Corno and Eihab Boraie
Photography by Eihab Boraie