Six days ago, three grizzly bears died at Giza Zoo.
Reports on the news stated that the three female bears were fighting over a male.
Thus ensued a slew of jokes about the prowess of the male bear, though how someone can find such negligence- on the part of the zoo- hilarious escapes me.
Two days later, the Al-Watan newspaper broke the story; the three bears died because of a sedative overdose, leading to two falling over and breaking several bones, while the remaining one drowned.
A photo of a starving lioness at Alexandria Zoo ignited anger last August, gaining international scrutiny from animal activists. The zoo manager assured them the case was under control. A day later, the lioness died.
In November 2011, a lioness cub was rescued from an enclosure in the Red Sea and placed in Giza Zoo, which is supposed to act as a rescue centre if necessary. Mimi the cub was given to the zoo and several well-meaning animal lovers donated blankets, toys and their time to help her transition. Mimi died a month later.
Similar stories of the negligence of the seven governmental zoos in Egypt can be easily dug up. One only has to walk through one of them to see the abuse; malnourished lions, hippos swimming in filthy ponds, wild dogs injured and left untreated, seals that perform tricks on command, brown bears spoon-fed and petted by visitors
You do not have to be a specialist to see the abuse first-hand.
Giza Zoo, because it is located in the capital, gets the lion’s share of media attention, followed by Alexandria Zoo. The conditions of the other governmental zoos in Beni Suef, Fayoum, Kafr El-Sheikh, Mansoura, and Tanta are even worse. Puny and injured animals suffering from malnourishment is a major concern.
One of the worst kinds of exploitation of wild animals in Egyptian zoos is what is commonly known as a “photo session”. You pay EGP 20 and you can have your photo taken with your choice of wild baby animals- lion cubs, peacocks, monkeys, and more.
Parents flock to the photo sessions, wanting to appease their children’s desire for a photo with a lion cub. It does not matter that human-animal contact is dangerous because of the transfer of viruses which can lead to the animal’s death and at times, the human’s infection. Nor does it matter that teaching children such behaviour only reinforces the concept of treating animals as toys. What matters is making money.
The zoo keepers are given very low monthly salaries, around EGP 200. To make ends meet, they depend on tips from visitors who, in turn, require tricks from the animals. The keepers have to care about the animals because they are their livelihoods. Unlike zoo keepers aboard, they are not given any awareness or animal behaviour courses. Most of them gain experience on the job. Some have had their job for over 20 years; their responsibility, according to one keeper, is to “keep the animal alive”. If the animal dies, the keeper takes the fall even if there is administrative negligence. Thus it is a vicious cycle of covering negligence instead of fixing the problem.
The General Organisation of Veterinary Services (GOVS) headed by Osama Selim supervises all four animal-related sectors: public zoos, veterinarian quarantine, veterinarian preventive medicine, and slaughterhouses. Selim happens to be the head of the veterinary services as well, while Fatma Tamam is Giza Zoo director and head of the public zoos!
The duality of positions means that complaints fall into a vicious cycle; if an animal dies at Giza Zoo, a complaint is then filed to the zoo director, who is Tamam. All complaints against the zoo are handed to the head of the public zoos- Tamam- too. Complaints filed with the Environment Police are also handed to Tamam for investigation!
In a country where people can barely make ends meet, animals do not rank high on the important issues list.
So why keep zoos functional?
The money made out of yearly visitors is reported in the millions (the actual budget remains a top secret issue so far). Egyptians, who are quite poor, find that zoos are their only possible outing because of the low-priced tickets, particularly during holidays. Of course, the huge numbers of visitors, animals suffer a different kind of maltreatment; visitors agitate them and some even throw hot drinks on them to “get a reaction”. Last week, during the Easter holiday, children were filmed shooting at the antelopes with a BB gun!
To have a zoo is a responsibility. Animals cannot talk or express their pain, and so if one is not up to such a responsibility, it should be given up.
Activists have started an online petition to close down all seven governmental zoos, calling them “hellholes for animals”.
Until Egypt can step up to its responsibilities, we call upon all animal activists in every country to help us close down these hell-holes and find an alternative for these suffering animals.
“Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it.”