Egyptian Zookeepers Insult MY Religion (Op Ed)

Animal cruelty, Egypt, Zoos, wildlife conservation, animal activismElephants, 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!”

Animal cruelty, Egypt, Zoos, wildlife conservation, animal activismA quote attributed to Gandhi floats through the blogosphere.

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.

Animal cruelty, Egypt, Zoos, wildlife conservation, animal activismLast week we witnessed hysterical moral indignation in the Arab/Muslim world over an absurd, incendiary film made by a thug, with fatal consequences for several innocent men.

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.

Animal cruelty, Egypt, Zoos, wildlife conservation, animal activismBut 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.

Animal cruelty, Egypt, Zoos, wildlife conservation, animal activismAlthough 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?

Animal cruelty, Egypt, Zoos, wildlife conservation, animal activismThe information used in this Op Ed was sent to Green Prophet by animal advocate Eileen Crossman; photographer Khaled Elbarky sent the following information with his images:

  • 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.

About Tafline Laylin

As a tour leader who led “eco-friendly” camping trips throughout North America, Tafline soon realized that she was instead leaving behind a trail of gas fumes, plastic bottles and Pringles. In fact, wherever she traveled – whether it was Viet Nam or South Africa or England – it became clear how inefficiently the mandate to re-think our consumer culture is reaching the general public.Born in Iran, raised in South Africa and the United States, she currently splits her time between Africa and the Middle East.Tafline can be reached at tafline (at) greenprophet (dot) com, @teakettle22, http://www.facebook.com/tafline.laylin

41 thoughts on “Egyptian Zookeepers Insult MY Religion (Op Ed)”

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  10. Hind says:

    Thank you for this well written article. I hope more people become aware of the plight of animals in Egypt. Not only in zoos but even at the faculties of veterinary medicine atrocities are being committed. On the streets, dogs and cats are run over, shot, poisoned, killed by the people, horse and donkey carts continue to be used often with the animals in pitiable condition. Let’s also not forget the horses, camels and donkeys used to give tourist rides – please refuse to ride an animal that is thin or wounded if you ever visit Egypt, make a point of it so hopefully the owner will make an effort to keep their animal in better condition.

    Islam demands its followers to show compassion to all sentient beings, sadly many Muslims pick and choose what suits them. I am Muslim and animal abusers insult MY religion too.

    http://islam.about.com/od/islamsays/a/animalwelfare.htm

  11. Thanks Nillo, as it happens I don’t eat animals or use them for entertainment…

  12. Niilo Van Steinburg says:

    The conditions those animals face are horrendous. However, there are equally horrendous conditions that non-human animals face all over the world simply because we deem them property – i.e, they are to be used as we wish. Whether we eat them, wear them, or use them as entertainment, these poor creatures suffer indignities that no sentient being should experience.

    If those pictures from this zoo disturb you – then, congratulations, you are a compassionate human being. If you’d like to do something about the plight of animals, then you can start with the very easy step of not using animals at all for yourself. Don’t eat them (or their products), don’t wear them, and don’t use them for entertainment. Otherwise, you are committing the same atrocities that you condemn in that zoo.

  13. Thanks Joispa. I’m familiar with those images but don’t want to look at them again just now. What is wrong with people?

  14. Joispa says:

    There you go on animal cruelty… not in zoos however, in their own habitat… what a disgusting practice… this time from the civilized world of Northern Europe.

    http://www.protecttheocean.com/denmark-continues-dolphin-slaughter-warning-graphic-images/

  15. Whitestarling says:

    No matter what colour, creed, or religion we are, we should all care for the Animals of this world. They have no views, or axe to grind on religion, politics, racism or a lot of the comments expressed on here. All that just gets in the road of the main point, caring for helpless Animals wherever they are in our World. If we ca’nt care for the Animals in our care, how can people expect us care about other human beings.

  16. Joispa says:

    I’ve had countless fights with kids in my run down neighborhood for mistreating cats and dogs and got beaten up for that at least twice. Talking about other issues related doesn’t mean one isn’t concerned for the welfare of animals. But let’s put things straight. I agree we don’t need zoos until we prove we’re worthy of the upkeep. You also have to understand that Western power colluded with a mighty corrupt system in Egypt that robbed the Egyptians of their own welfare and a knowledge society and this ultimately is why these poor animals suffer. Even as recently as last month, Britain had not done much to track and confiscate the wealth of the despotic Mubarak and his ilk, even after all that happened. Egypt is notorious for mistreating people and that is no secret, it’s a country in trauma… just go see how smuggled Africans are treated for daring a crossing of Sinai to Israel: Shot, tortured, operated on for spare parts, enslaved and electrocuted on border fences. And much of that is a nation gone bonkers from ONCE having no viable institutions or hope for a better future. Thank God things have changed and a faint light is shining at the end of the tunnel, come Western blessings or none.

  17. SOK says:

    Sorry, my bad on spelling I was writing too quick to go, I want to add I am not sure if it was Gandhi who said this quote or not, and I did try to find out who, but again I am running out of time, “My friends never understood why I never wanted to play chess, but when they did, it was obvious that I hated to see all figures on the table will be sacrificed to save one king”. When we can support each other to stop the oppression in ourselves then on the world and win, then the animals, trees and everything else will be treated equally to us.. Where we stand now, any African, Gazan “Palestinian”, Afghan, East European or even South American hungry child will love to be a zoo clown to be saved from where they are now. I don’t think any of you here understood hunger since Monsanto is doing a good job to consider humans and animals a like, “lap rats”. I am sorry but I won’t be back to comment on this page again.. I wish you all luck with your “opinions”….

  18. SOK says:

    If it is me who say sad to Ms Teresa , then yes I have no problem admitting that openly. Justice has not taken place among humans, yet everyone is rushing to pushing and pulling endlessly with no direction. Let me ask people a sensible question, can someone give money when one does not have it? How about this question, can one give love when one does not have it? No one is 100% directing his/her effort to save one live but we are able to save history left overs, make weapons and satisfy our ego to prove we are better race and civilization than others? I can congratulate you if you are able not to be angry and sad!!

  19. Teresa Toole says:

    Whoops…I meant Gandhi!

  20. Teresa Toole says:

    Ms. Laylin,some of the responders to this story are indeed very angry and sad people. Because there are many bad things in the world does not make this particular bad thing any less bad. The conservatives in my country often think this way. If one shows compassion for animals, they call out every ill as being more important. It is quite sad. They really lack empathy. I am grateful that you have brought this to my attention.The Ghandi quote is globally true. Thank you for your good work.

  21. SOK says:

    The thing is, I do not buy from all this pathetic pitiful fake sympathy for animals, when entire world of human population is being killed right before our eyes.. Take Palestinians who have been oppressed for over decades in their very own land?.. Afghan and Iraq who paid the price for an inside job? Those who are below poverty lines in East Europe, the famine, poverty and total demolition of a continent Africa! People need to get their priorities right and stop using other peoples emotional instabilities to suck up few coins in which 70% of it goes directly to the very pockets of those who are collecting it and less than a few reaches what they call for,,, that is why it has become a job for people to work in charity organisation and not the other way around!! Even if 100% goes where it’s meant to be for!! Like I said, we have to have priorities to consider, I don’t understand the amount of money spent saving an animal when humans left to die openly?? Animals only want to be free!! Believe me the time we interfered in their world, that is when things started to go wrong for them.. They live or die, that is their nature… it is their way of life and we are not suppose interfere in it. Why money to NASA? Why trillions to discover life on Mars when cannot make better life for people on earth?? Why discover the bloody life on the moon? Why the USA spend $1Billion a day on weapons? Why save old historical leftovers for cultures that lived their time, while we spend too much money to look for it, too much money to protect it while people still are drinking contaminated water, or do not have a place to simply call it home? The world can absolutely go on to exist without an archaeologists or charity beggars,, but we cannot live without farmers and doctors. Yet, since this pitiful article start with religion word in it, then I could simply add we will not go on without respecting each other… Freedom of speech or freedom to disrespect? A word of truth, the West have been picking endless on the Middle East right before our eyes for decades.. Why? The West were working fine with their dictators all the way through… what has happen now,, has our Western dictators decided to take over the Medial East finally? Are they fed up of protecting them?? Or the oil bribery was not enough???

  22. Thanks so much for your concern Alison. The important thing is to ensure that all of the relevant activist groups concentrate their efforts… I’ll ask the person who sent me this information to advise an appropriate and effective course of action. I also think the protest needs to come from the Egyptian community (right?) What does everyone else think?

  23. Alison Weisz says:

    How do we start a petition to tell the local authorities that this is unacceptable?

  24. Chime says:

    If you can’t run a zoo for whatever reasons there might be, then DON’T! Shame on you all for torturing these innicent animals who would rather live in wild & free. My prayers othe animals and curse to all those responsible for these unnecessary brutalities!

  25. Joispa says:

    Religious hypocrisy is allover and everywhere and infects the masses. Humans are the hypocritical corrupt animal. Most of the culture of the Arab world acts in total disregard to what Quran or the Bible preaches while sticking to interpretations that serve their personal ends. Injustice, ignorance and greed are at the root of most evil in this world, done to animals or humans, with the former helpless against the might of the latter. And thank you for shedding light on this important issue.

  26. I brought up the issue of religion because Islam specifically mandates its followers to be custodians of the earth and because this is an effective way – we have found as communicators – to reach people in this region. In the context of the recent news, I think it is hypocritical that Egyptians get all fired up when others (an Egyptian-born Coptic Christian it turned out) take issue with their religion when they themselves are not adhering to its mandates.

  27. Joispa says:

    Dear Tafline, one cannot argue with universal love and truth messages, as per your posting. But why bring out religion when the topic is about animal cruelty. No one mentions Christianity or Judaism when the issue is human or animal cruelty. What angers me is that many have become brainwashed by media, be it entertainment or news, that the connector is always Islam when something ugly happens. People don’t violate the rights of animals because of their religion, but because they are stupid and ignorant, and ironically equally ignorant about their own religion. It’s not even an ethnic thing; white Christian men killed off millions of animals for fun and sport in modern history, on the American continent as well as African. The Japanese and Chinese delicacies still cause the death of endangered species; and none is because of any belief system. It was again ignorance that motivated their actions. Just to wrap it up; Quran, the Muslim holy book says clearly: “There is not a moving (living) creature on earth, nor a bird that flies with its two wings, but nation-like”… just as we are a human nation.

  28. I’m so disappointed in the direction this comment thread has taken as that wasn’t my intention at all.

    As far as I’m concerned, we are all made of the same dirt and stars and we’re all going to land up in the same place when we’re dead (at least our physical bodies… the issue of soul is far too complicated to address here.)

    In the meantime, what more is there to do than treat all living beings with love and respect and hope that we will receive the same?

    The rest – all of this hatred – is just a total waste of energy and fuels the powermongers that are ruining us and our planet.

  29. Joispa says:

    Ok, let’s communicate at your level. So, if one doesn’t like Americans, you go on enslaving them and killing them? Oh Mother Marry!!! But gotta give you credit for being honest.

  30. Joispa says:

    How ignorant do you think you are Carl? Hate Americans!!! Who the hell loves Americans or Israelis these days! You’ve ruined the planet with your consecutive penut brains for leaders, be it presidents, Congressmen or Senates, corrupted my political world, siphoned wealth so you can go on wasting it on lousy useless products. Don’t ask me why we hate Americans. Ask history.

  31. Carl Muller says:

    To Joispa. And innocent people are dying worse than these animals because the Muslims don’t like the Americans.

  32. Joispa says:

    Since you turned this into a comparative, let’s see, the animals at this zoo are getting treated at par with Israel’s treatment of fellow humans, in manmade human zoos, corralled through metal corridors, deprived of water and farming, imprisoned in tens of thousands, children, elderly and all. I don’t agree with animal cruelty, but I don’t agree with human cruelty as well. Egyptians and Muslims will rise and will prove to be the better civilization again. What you have in the Western world is a 100 times the hypocrisy that we have in the Mulsim world; and you’ve turned that into a form of higher art. Check your records over the last 60 years on human rights before you start throwing blame allover the place. Thank you.

  33. Aviva Weisgal says:

    There are people all over the world who call themselves religious, and don’t have a clue about what the core of religion is ‘suppose’ to be. People are getting weaker, and hungrier, more vulnerable and easy to manipulate. It is not only in the Muslim world, we have our un-fair share of it here, in Israel. Please don’t turn these comments into a shuk for hatred, ‘Napolion!’

  34. Aviva Weisgal says:

    I will do my best to make this article go viral, as it should do! You write with such courageous passion, I wish to support you in anyway possible. Perhaps an international petition would be effective in changing the way that these imprisoned and tortured creatures are kept.

    Thank you, too, Farida for having the guts to criticize the system from within.

    1. Thank you Aviva. I believe there is a petition floating around (amid all the other causes making their way across social media)… I hope it will be effective. There MUST be a way to put an end to this tragedy.

  35. Napolion says:

    Radical Muslims are getting stronger we must stop them because they dangerous for the all world .

  36. Farida El-Gueretly says:

    Yes that is very sad and true… I guess that would be a general culture of behind the scene money-making, bribery and corruption that comes about as a result of exploitation. Unfortunately, a vicious circle of negative feedback loops…

    Thank you for bringing such an important issue to the forefront of what I have come to see as an exceptionally executed online blog.

  37. Thanks for your comments Farida. I agree that people need to get paid (although the poking of animals to rile them up is not guiltless – just look at that lions face!) I paid LE 50 to have a photo taken with a lion cub at a zoo in Cairo as part of my research recently and the place was packed. Somebody is making money… but where is it going?

  38. Farida El-Gueretly says:

    The way the animals are treated at the Giza Zoo is despicable. But you know what? Last time I visited the zoo, on the basis of reportage, after talking to the zookeepers, I found out that the people there make approximately 200 Egyptian pounds a month! Considering that these zookeepers, mostly men, have families to feed, they are forced to rely heavily on the tips that they accumulate in letting the visitors interact with the animals.

    For many of these zookeepers, and I quote, “the animals are treated better than us”… With this kind of mentality, it is really impossible to inaugurate a culture of respect for different species.

    Don’t get me wrong, what is happening here is atrocious, this is anthro-centrism at its most extreme. But we need to think about those other factors too.

    If anything, I really hope they close this zoo down for a complete renovation and reassessment.

  39. Thanks Helena. I just hope someone in power will have the kahunas to stand up and finally do something about this atrocity. And soon!

  40. Helena Carless says:

    Thank you for sharing this piece, I hope it gets the attention it deserves.

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