Elephants, lions, and wolves are by nature free, roaming creatures that form complex social relationships. In the wild we have hunted them to near extinction and we have tethered them to cages and private homes. But animals bred or purchased by any of Egypt’s seven national zoos are especially unlucky: every day, zookeepers mete out starvation, physical abuse, solitary confinement and other forms of cruelty. And nobody seems to care.
Animal rights activists have contacted the central zoo director (I refuse to capitalize this title), the Minister of Agriculture, other zoo officials, Egyptian embassies around the world and even President Moursi with photographic evidence of emaciated lions, hippos swimming through sewage and wolves sporting bloody, raw wounds, and no one, absolutely no one has stood up to say “but this is wrong!”
I don’t know if he really said this or if it even matters, but this string of words has great power to shame the people capable of ignoring the kind of vile cruelty depicted in these images by Khaled Elbarky.
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress,” goes the quote, “can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
By Gandhi’s compass, Egypt’s moral progress is in its infancy.
Further analysis has unveiled a host of complex and self-serving motives behind the scene and more is yet to come, but in the meantime this terrible theater highlights the MENA region’s extraordinary hypocrisy.
Egyptian mobs demand respect for Prophet Muhammad, who devoted his lifetime to compassion, dignity and honor, but back home it’s OK to sexually harass women and condemn wild beasts to a lifetime of starvation and torture?
Don’t get me wrong. Better than most westerners, I understand that pure Islam condemns animal cruelty – nay, all cruelty – and urges followers to be custodians of all living things.
But the zookeepers who continue to breed and purchase more elephants and other animals only to leave them chained up for 22 hours a day, even though they lack the financial resources to ensure these animals have decent habitats and food, are not behaving like real Muslims.
And the people who avenge a foolish film with murder do not deserve the respect for which they ask. How dare we demand respect when we ourselves are so disrespectful to sentient beings – human and otherwise?
I’ve seen these zoos. I’ve watched lions and tigers (in the same cage at that) whipped into submission while the crowd stood idly by. Nobody froths at the mouth demanding justice for these creatures, which are made of the same stuff as you and me and by the same creator.
Although many of the Muslims I have met during my travels are among the most enlightened and generous people on the planet, I refuse to silence my criticism of cruelty and neglect because of sensitive religious issues. Animal cruelty is wrong – in every religion.
The continued neglect of Egypt’s zoo animals is an insult to my prophets – the powerful lion, the loyal elephant, the solitary wolf – and offends my religion, which is mother nature. Nor am I alone, because if you care about Allah, God, Buddha, Jesus, Moses, or any other holy man or woman, then by extension you care about all life.
Now, for the love of God, who is going to step up to the plate and hold these torturers to account?
- The lion, whose name is Antar, lives at the Kafr El-Shaikh zoo, where a guard constantly pokes with a long iron rod in order to get him to perform for visitors.
- Sammar the tiger lives at the same zoo. She is over 25 years old and suffers from a variety of ailments, along with extraordinary pain. The zoo refuses to put her to sleep, which would be the humane thing to do.
- The hippo lives with others at the Fayoum zoo, which lacks adequate resources to keep the water clean. As you can see, it is full of sewage that imperils the hippos’ health.
- And the wolf? On the brink of starvation, a pack of wolves at Fayoum zoo are believed to fight each other for food – leading to terrible injuries that go untreated.
- At 49, the female Asian elephant is kept on this short chain day after day, year after year at the Giza zoo.
- Lastly, this solitary baboon at Tanta zoo has spent its entire life in a 1.5 meter square cage. He/she sleeps on a bed of refuse.
We’re sorry to be the bearer of such awful news, so to cheer you up a little bit, we’d like to introduce you to Jessica – the world’s sweetest hippo. A little tender loving and hippo kisses go a long way, but we don’t recommend that you do this at home.