It has not been a very good week for animals in Egypt. Truth be told, animals usually end up getting the short end of the stick here, literally. Animals are either food or are used for work in the capital, and the breeds that normally do not end up on your plate usually live on the streets.
Animals are everywhere in Cairo, from the scrawny cats that survive on scraps of garbage to the groups of dogs that roam the streets of suburbs, disappearing into the surrounding desert from time to time. On any given day you will find horses and donkeys pulling carts of fruits and vegetables and flocks of sheep and goats surrounding small butcher shops. And then of course there are the chickens, ducks and geese that scratch around rooftops and alleyways.
Of course there are families that have one or more pets; I have been introduced to much-loved cats, dogs, hamsters, turtles and even a ferret or two. But for every animal that receives strokes, cuddles and appropriate food there are hundreds of animals that fight for daily survival on the street. It is one of the things you notice when you are first introduced to the city.
Many here-for-a-semester city dwellers cannot resist the plight of these animals that are living rough and adopt a cat or dog, only to be faced with finding them a home when they leave. Expat websites, mailing lists and social media groups are often flooded with pleas to find Fluffy or Fido a new residence.
Far be it from me to judge if taking an animal in for a short period of time only to leave them behind when you move on is cruel or kind; I have had to make some hard choices there myself. I once loved a man who arrived in my life with a dog and not much later a cat. When we parted ways I also had to say goodbye to the animals; there was not enough room in my single life to take care of them properly. It was pretty much a tie as to the loss of which of the three broke my heart most.
This past long weekend the Cairo Zoo was flooded with visitors; families take their children for a tour of the dismal facility, to sit on the grass, have lunch together and stare at the badly housed, often filthy and starving animals. For the visiting families it is often one of the few things they can afford to do during vacations; trips to the seaside are only for the lucky few.
I find it hard to fathom that anyone can have a fun day while surrounded by examples of animal cruelty that would land those responsible in jail in many countries, but then again I do not have to struggle to feed my family each and every day. Again, no judgment from my side.
One evening three bears in the zoo got into a fight that apparently lasted for hours and resulted in the death of all three. According to reports, zookeepers used the full arsenal available to them to separate the feuding foes, but the bears were not deterred by the water cannons. Seriously, water cannons?
For well over two years we have seen over and over again that the powers that be have many in their employ that know their way around a gun. Sedation darts anyone? I am sure everyone is happy to know that if the spirit of Madagascar or John Irving’s Setting Free the Bears ever comes over the larger animals in Cairo Zoo, the keepers will keep us safe from being mauled with their water cannons. Yes, on this I am judgmental.
When I moved here it was explained to me very carefully on several occasions that it was very important to only eat Halal meat. And never pork. Not all my friends follow one or the other or both, but for everyone that enjoys a salami sandwich there is another that abstains if they are not sure where the meat came from. Live and let live, I say, unless you are the cow, sheep or chicken of course. Or if you are the cow in the abattoir video that went recently went viral, sparking international protests about the treatment of animals in Egyptian slaughterhouses.
It seems no one else here will be eating Australian beef anytime soon because the outraged folks Down Under have stopped any new shipments of cows. It has been quite some years since I ate meat, but I judge those in the video nonetheless and if it were up to me the sentence of both the workers and owners would be harsh.
Many groups in our society are suffering, from hunger, harassment, torture, inefficient healthcare and failing institutions, and the list goes on. Animals in Egypt are just another group trying to stick it out and avoid being beaten.