Egyptian humane movement strives to grow as quickly as the nation
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2008:
CAIRO, LUXOR–Percentage-wise, the Egyptian humane movement
may for the first time be growing faster than the Egyptian
populations of street dogs and feral cats. The numbers of
organizations, shelters, mobile clinics, animal hospitals,
volunteers, and local donors are all increasing at an unprecedented
The Brooke Hospital for Equines, operating in Cairo since
1934, now serves more than 200,000 horses and donkeys each
year–more than it did in all of the first 60 years that it existed.
The Brooke, though the oldest continuously operating animal
welfare society in Egypt, was scarcely the first in Egypt. Eight
Egyptian humane societies were represented at the first
International Humane Congress, held in Washington D.C. in 1910.
Egypt was also represented at the six ensuing International
Humane Congresses, convened in London, Helsingborg, Copen-hagen,
Philadelphia, Brussels, and Vienna at sporadic intervals until 1947.
But never before have socio-economic conditions in Egypt
seemed as conducive to growing an animal protection movement with
deep local roots.
“No doubt that there is a booming, with 10 shelters for
animals now operating in Egypt, and many articles in the press about
animals,” says Society for the Protection of Animal Rights in Egypt
founder Amina Abaza. “This has never happened before.”
Egyptian cultural history provides a strong base to build
from. Reminders of the ancient Egyptian regard for cats, birds,
wildlife, and dogs are omnipresent. Cats have never been persecuted
in Egypt, as they have been in Europe and parts of Asia, and even
street cats are consequently conspicuously bold and vocal.
Egypt today is 94% Muslim and 6% Coptic Christian. “Animal
advocacy is firmly rooted within Islam,” Abaza notes, “but many
people observe Islam in superficial aspects and forget about its
Other socio-demographic factors of importance include rising
family incomes, a rapid drift away from occupational involvement in
raising animals for food or using them for work, and soaring levels
of education, especially among women.
Increased cultural contact with Europe is also a factor–but
while expatriate economic contributions to Egyptian humane societies
are still important, as in the past, Egyptian-founded organizations
such as SPARE, the Egyptian Society of Animal Friends, and Egyptian
Society for Mercy to Animals are now taking leadership roles.
Egyptian organizations are also emerging as regional leaders.
The Middle East Network for Animal Welfare, begun by ESAF president
Ahmed El Sherbiny, hosted an international conference in
mid-December 2007 that attracted 147 delegates from throughout the
Islamic world, the U.S., and Europe. Among the delegates were
several for whom Egypt is a base for expanding outreach into other
nations of the Middle East and North Africa, especially Sudan.
European funding sustains the Brooke and The Donkey Sanctuary
outreach programs in Giza. Yet almost all of the Brooke and Donkey
Sanctuary staff these days are Egyptians. Expatriates are now as
likely to be found volunteering for Egyptian-led organizations as at
the heads of their own projects.
Not all of the Egyptian humane movement leaders look first to
the west for help. Indian humane organizations, for example, are
often tapped for expertise about issues associated with arid
climates, zoonotic diseases seldom seen in the developed world, and
working amid poverty and illiteracy.
“We need to learn from the west, not depend on the west,”
El Sherbiny repeatedly told ANIMAL PEOPLE.
Everything about Egypt is growing, so to gain visibility and
influence, the Egyptian humane community must grow faster. The
human population, economy, and urban encroachment on rural suburbs
are all expanding at about 2% per year, not quite as fast as at
peak, when growth at times exceeded 4%, but fast enough that to
grow only 25% over a decade would be to risk falling behind.
The largest pro-animal organization working in Egypt is still
the Brooke. In addition to the original clinic in Cairo, the Brooke
now operates branch clinics in Luxor, Aswan, Alexandria, Edfu,
and Marsa Matrouh, with more than 40 veterinarians among them. Each
branch clinic fields several mobile units that go farther afield to
serve equine workplaces, ranging from stables near the Giza pyramids
to outlying quarries and brick kilns.
The Cairo clinic now sees mainly horses and donkeys who have
been hit by cars–sometimes in areas that are legally off limits to
equines. A Brooke staff member told ANIMAL PEOPLE about scrambles
by animal owners to remove horses and donkeys from the accident
scenes before they can be confiscated by the police and taken to the
Giza Zoo for slaughter to feed the carnivores.
Many accident victims turn out to have other conditions
requiring treatment, including severe saddle sores, sore noses from
improper harnessing, chronic infections, and sometimes
malnutrition. As well as providing treatment, harnesses with nose
guards, and instruction in appropriate care, the Brooke taps
identification numbers into the animals’ hooves, which enable Brooke
staff to know if an animal is a repeat visitor and if the lessons
from past contact have been heeded.
Originally located at the very edge of Cairo, the first
Brooke clinic is now near the middle of the city. Each branch clinic
now sees far more animals. The first clinic houses the
administrative offices and is used for teaching and training.
Quiet as the Brooke Cairo clinic has become, it inspired the
rise of the other leading Cairo humane organizations.
SPARE founder Amina Abaza became involved in humane work by
taking abused donkeys and horses she found in the streets to the
Brooke for care.
Because the Brooke lacks longterm housing, Abaza eventually
began sheltering some of the animals at her husband Raouf Mishriki’s
farm in Saqqara, another Cairo suburb. They still house equines
El Sherbiny, a pragmatic attorney who seems to know almost
everyone in Cairo, began much as Abaza did, intervening when he
saw horses and donkeys being beaten. Eventually he rearranged his
law practice work schedule to keep mainly night office hours, so as
to devote daylight hours to helping animals. Among his projects are
pursuing legislative reform, prosecuting court cases against animal
abusers, educating fellow attorneys about animal protection law,
encouraging reforms at the Giza Zoo and the notorious brutal
Bassatiin slaughterhouse complex, and directing ESAF and MENAW,
which functions mainly as an information exchange.
The Egyptian Society of Animal Friends founders, including
his wife Jackie, wanted to start a shelter, El Sherbiny told ANIMAL
PEOPLE, but had difficulty finding an affordable location, as inner
Cairo land prices have soared out of sight. One day they visited
SPARE and saw a vacant lot for sale just around the corner, backing
into the SPARE property. ESAF is now located there.
The SPARE and ESAF shelters each house about 85 dogs and
about half as many cats. Each has surgical facilities, an adoption
program, a humane education program, and a mobile unit that serves
horses and donkeys in the mode of the Brooke.
The Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals recently built a
third dog-and-cat shelter in the same general direction from inner
Cairo, but located right at the very edge of the present metropolis.
ESMA was begun by local television personality Mona Khalil, a former
SPARE and ESAF volunteer. The U-shaped ESMA shelter, still under
construction, intended to offer about twice the animal housing
capacity of SPARE and ESAF combined, arranges kennels and a cat
facility around a big shaded courtyard.
The greater Cairo metropolitan area, with as many as 20
million human residents, sprawling over 550 square kilometers, is
plenty big enough to need and eventually support all three shelters,
and more. Providing adequate humane service to the whole Cairo
community will probably require a network of many neighborhood
shelters and clinics like those of SPARE, ESAF, and ESMA.
The model of serving the whole city from a few large
locations, successful in cities planned for the automotive era,
probably will not work well in Cairo, which takes two to three hours
just to drive across.
Three former SPARE volunteers, Ahmed Diab, Amr Hamdy,
and Magda Hamed, recently cofounded Animal Welfare And
Resp-onsibility in Egypt, which AWARE so far focuses on doing humane
The first big AWARE project, begun in 2005, was helping
Dutch professor Lex Hiby to do a dog census of Cairo. They projected
a population of between 10,000 and 50,000 street dogs in Cairo and
ANIMAL PEOPLE data collected in December 2007 using a
similar approach indicated that the lower figure is more accurate,
with about 6,000 street dogs in Cairo itself and about 10,500 in Giza
and the surrounding residential suburbs. The feral cat population
appears to be about 12 times higher: perhaps two million.
The numbers, in terms of bio-mass, are strikingly
similar to the findings from a dog survey just completed in January
2008 by the Muni-cipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, India,
population 19 million. Mumbai has 70,000 street dogs, the municipal
corporation found, who would be equivalent in biomass to about 2.1
million feral cats. Because of the presence of the street dogs, who
tend to monopolize the food sources, Mumbai has relatively few feral
cats: perhaps not many more than Cairo has dogs.
Mumbai and Cairo are at approximately parallel levels
of economic development, but Mumbai remains more congenial to dogs,
perhaps because Indians are more tolerant of dogs, or tend to leave
more edible waste in accessible places, or–perhaps the biggest but
least visible factor–rely less on poisoning for rodent control.
The rudimentary Cairo animal control department has often
poisoned and shot street dogs, as ANIMAL PEOPLE has exposed many
times, most recently in June 2007, when Egyptian president Hosny
Mubarak reportedly directed the Ministry of Agriculture to “apply
humane international measures in dealing with stray animals, instead
of shooting and poisoning,” which Mubarak said “detracts from
Egypt’s status as a land of culture and center of tourism.”
But while poisoning and shooting dogs tells anti-dog factions
that someone is “doing something” about the alleged “dog menace,”
such methods have little history of success in suppressing dog
populations. To succeed, the killers would have to exterminate more
than 70% of the dogs each and every year, the same percentage who
would have to be sterilized to stop population growth. Dogs often
avoid poisoned baits after seeing other dogs eat them and die, and
most dogs run from gunfire.
Poisoning rodents, on the other hand, reduces a major
protein source for street dogs, and may indirectly poison dogs and
cats who eat stricken rodents.
Comparative historical data about the dog population anywhere
in Egypt is sparse. The probable trend, evident worldwide, is that
the urban dog population has fallen with the advent of automobiles,
which have displaced the use of horses and donkeys for transport,
and thereby have reduced the volume of edible droppings and of grain
and fodder stored at ground level, accessible to rats.
But Egypt, though increasingly mechanized, does not
actually have fewer working equines now than several decades ago.
Rather, the rate of growth in the equine population has merely
lagged behind the rate of human population growth. This would not
suppress the numbers of dogs, whose decline is visible in rural
areas as well as in Cairo.
“I have been visiting the tombs and temples for 25 years
now,” says Animal Care in Egypt founder Julie Wartenburg, “and the
numbers of both cats and dogs have significantly declined. I believe
some of it must be due to poisoning, but many more Egyptian people
and expatriates are giving homes to them.”
Yet removing street dogs and feral cats for adoption, like
killing them, opens habitat to more–if enough remain to breed up to
the carrying capacity of the habitat.
The most obvious habitat change over the past several decades
was the introduction of a massive, ongoing, sustained poisoning
campaign to suppress Nile cane rats, who proliferated across much of
Egypt after the 1971 completion of the Aswan High Dam. (See pages
Whatever brought the Egyptian street dog and feral cat
populations down, the remaining populations of dogs and cats appear
to be quickly eradicable by means of high-volume neuter/ return.
Most of the present Egyptian dog-and-cat aid organizations have
demonstrated neuter/ return on a limited basis in their own
neighborhoods. Lacking has been the funding and official support
needed to expand into other areas where street dogs and feral cats
might be considered problematic. –Merritt Clifton
Egyptian Society of Animal Friends: 30 Korshed St. /Rd.
293, New Maadi, Egypt; 20-2-702-1142; <email@example.com>;
Society for the Protection of Animal Rights in Egypt: 16
Taha Hussein, Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt; 20-12-381-3855;
Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals: c/o Mona Khalil, 76
Gamet El Dowal El Arabia, Mohand-esseen, Giza, Egypt;
Brooke Fund for Animals, Broadmead House: 21 Panton Street,
London SW1Y 4DR, U.K.; 44-020-930-0210; fax 44-020-930-2386;