Camels, horses & change in Egypt

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2011:

CAIRO–The conflict of old and new in Tahrir Square, Cairo,
was perhaps most starkly illustrated by the February 2, 2011 charge
of 18 whip-wielding men on horseback and two on camels against the
tens of thousands of people demanding the resignation of
then-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. The demonstrators had
occupied the square since January 25.
Mubarak left on February 11, ending a 30-year dictatorial
regime, but on February 2 the outcome of the protests was still in
doubt. “In Dokki, in western Cairo,” reported Al Jazeera,
“thousands of Mubarak supporters gathered in Lebanon Square,
chanting ‘He won’t go,’ in reference to Mubarak, as they watched
camel riders and horse-cart drivers parade in circles.”

By afternoon, “The largest phalanx of pro-government forces
gathered next to the Egyptian Museum, and thousands surged toward
the army tanks blocking the road into Tahrir. The camel and horse
riders from Dokki galloped through the crowd, as others launched a
barrage of rocks toward the protesters inside Tahrir,” Al Jazeera
“At least six riders were dragged from their beasts, beaten
with sticks by the protesters and taken away with blood streaming
down their faces,” Al Jazeera continued. “One of them was dragged
away unconscious, with large blood stains on the ground at the site
of the clash.”
Photos and video of the charge were e-mailed around the world
within minutes, including a sequence of a camel stumbling over a
photographer and falling to the pavement. Fighting continued off and
on for days. Gasoline bombs and sporadic bursts of live gunfire from
Mubarak supporters injured far more people–and hurt some of the
horses and camels, said unconfirmed reports. Yet the failure of the
horse and camel charge appeared to be pivotal, emblematic of an
antiquated authoritarian system that had run out of tricks to keep
“Using animals in their bloody work–what do animals have to
do with this? And the animals got injured and burnt! Horses were
horrifically injured,” e-mailed Egyptian Society for Mercy to
Animals cofounder Mona Khalil to ANIMAL PEOPLE. The riders were
“from the area near the Giza pyramids and sphinx called Nazlet El
Saman,” Khalil added. “The parliamentary representative there is
from the National Party,” Mubarak’s party, “and he motivated them.
Many of these animals were injured, but we do not have info about
what happened to them. We investigated as much as we could,” Khalil
said. “Six horses were reported to have been tied to a lamp post the
next day. We sent three volunteers the next morning to check them
and see if we could take them to safety, but the horses were gone.
We knew some horses were injured in the riots, but could not locate
them in the pyramid stables area. We hope Brooke Egypt can help

Brooke Hospital

Not the oldest animal charity in Cairo, but by far the
biggest, the Brooke Hospital for Animals was founded as the Fund for
Old War Horses in London by English equine advocate Dorothy Brooke in
1930, who had recently moved to Cairo. Initially just a bank
account, the fund opened the Brooke Hospital for Old War Horses in
Cairo in 1934. The original Brooke clinic is still in service,
located about halfway between the government district and the Giza
pyramids. Now called the Brooke Hospital for Animals, the
organization has expanded worldwide. Just within Egypt, Brooke
branch clinics, several much larger than the one in Cairo, serve
the working horses and donkeys of Luxor, Aswan, Edfu, Alexandria,
Mersa Matruh, and the Nile Delta.
But the Brooke was evicted from Egypt in 1956, along with
other foreign-controlled charities. Returning circa 1961, the
Brooke has had often strained relations with the politically
well-connected owners of the major riding stables near the Giza
Working animals were banned from inner Cairo to relieve
traffic congestion about 20 years ago. This was expected to force
the Brooke to leave inner Cairo.
The Cairo SPCA, on the far side of the older part of the
city, founded in 1895, was likewise marooned. Losing the equine
pound contract that once filled 150 stables occupying an entire city
block, the Cairo SPCA failed to develop a new mission and funding
base, and today operates only a small outpatient clinic for small
animals and boards a handful of dogs and horses.
But the Brooke site remains busy, though many of the people
who bring horses and donkeys for treatment have in recent years had
to bribe police to look the other way as they lead or drive the
animals through the narrow streets. Before the January/February 2011
crisis started the Brooke held weekly field clinics near the Giza
pyramids and at the brick kilns serving the Cairo construction
industry, where the most donkeys are used.
The Brooke tried to keep a low profile during the
January/February 2011 crisis, and was confined to headquarters by
barricades at the time of the horse and camel charge in Tahrir
Square. “We are managing regular contact with our team in Cairo,”
Brooke media manager Kirsty Whitelock e-mailed to ANIMAL PEOPLE from
London. “Follow-ing reports of the horses and camels being ridden
into the crowds,” Whitelock said on February 4, “the Brooke team
have reported one horse was injured and treated promptly by local
vets in the Giza area. The Brooke team work closely with vets in that
area and have remained in close contact with them to offer support.”
As the Cairo situation stabilized, Brooke field clinics resumed at
the brick kilns on February 8.

Identifying the dead

An anonymous photo portfolio published in the February 8
edition of the London Daily Mail showed, said the caption, “the
sad plight of dozens of Egyptian horses who have starved to death,”
because tourism at the Giza pyramids halted, leaving the many riding
stables in the vicinity without feed or funds.
Taken at Nazlet El Saman, the major stable area near the
pyramids, the photos actually appeared to show some horses who had
died from dehydration, tied without shade in the sun. A horse who
receives adequate water may survive without food for weeks, but a
horse dies from dehydration after suffering a net loss of about nine
gallons of body fluid. This typically takes two to three days, but
can occur within hours after strenuous exercise in hot sun. As well
as the recently deceased, the Daily Mail photos showed some horses
who had died some time earlier.
“Please excuse us if we are not shocked,” said Egyptian
Society of Animal Friends president Ahmed al Sherbiny. “Horses are
brought to ESAF shelter in the most horrible condition on a regular
basis,” Sherbiny continued. “During our regular clinics in the
pyramids region, we witness horrible cruelty which can be seen at
any time. Some of the horses used for tourists to ride, though not
all, have suffered neglect and abuse for years.”
Publication of the photos touched off an urgent search by
Cairo activists to identify the stables where the horse deaths
The Brooke resumed holding clinics in the pyramids area on
February 10, joined two days later by the Donkey Sanctuary, but on
their first days back in the field the Brooke and Donkey Sanctuary
reported finding no cases of mass starvation.
“We now have three mobile units in Giza,” Brooke
spokesperson Whitelock told ANIMAL PEOPLE on February 15, “providing
treatment and fodder in the area. The team are also working with
community leaders in Giza,” Whitelock said, “helping them with
fodder distribution in order to ensure that food reaches those
animals most in need. In Edfu,” Whitelock continued, the Brooke
and the Carriage Owner’s League were “feeding 300 horses used in the
tourist trade. We are doing the same in Aswan,” she said, “feeding
300 horses and expecting to help many more.”
But ESMA volunteer Beth Sartain, a British veterinary nurse
recently working as a riding instructor in the pyramids area, on
February 11 confirmed some of the Daily Mail account. Sartain
described “Dozens of horses tethered on wasteland, some standing,
many too weak to stand. There are many bodies there also. I took
many photos,” Sartain said. “However, on my way back from Giza I
was stopped and searched by the army and made to delete all my
photos. There is food available,” Sartain said, “but it trebled in
cost during the unrest. The owner of the stable where I keep my
horses stables many horses for expatriates, and nearly all these
people have left Egypt without leaving funds for him to buy food.
When I was there yesterday he received 40 malnourished horses from
other stables. I am feeding my own horses and giving as much as I
can to help others.”
ESMA cofounders Khalil and Susie Nassar, working with
Sartain to feed horses, on February 13 saw the removal of a dead
horse from a stable and saw “at least 50 carcasses,” including three
camels. But longtime Cairo animal advocate Dina Zulfikar later
learned from stable owner Hussein Ghoneim that the area where the
dead animals were found has long been a government-designated carcass
Zulfikar told ANIMAL PEOPLE that according to the Ghoneim
family and their vets and workers, the remains photographed by the
Daily Mail included horses from many different stables who had died
over many weeks of causes often unrelated to the uprising, including
malaria. Some horses may have starved; others apparently died from
being given inappropriate “food” that they could not digest.
On February 13, however, ESAF’s first day back in the
pyramids area, “We noticed a much larger number of very thin
horses,” al Sherbiny e-mailed, “and we can assume this is due to
the political situation and lack of tourism.”

Feeding frenzy

The second ESMA feeding mission came on February 15. “This
time we had ordered two loads of feed,” Sartain wrote, “to
distribute from two points, to reach as many starving horses as we
possibly could. We loaded an open truck with 40 sacks of mixed feed.
We drove into Nazlet El Saman, the truck in front of several cars of
ESMA volunteers. I was in the car behind the truck with Susie Nassar
and my two daughters. People on horseback from the village
recognized us and started to follow the truck. When the truck slowed
down to negotiate a speed bump, they mobbed the truck. Dozens of
men grabbed sacks of food and tried to ride off.
“I told my children to stay in the car with Susie and ran
over to the truck,” Sartain said. “I shouted at the men to stop
taking the food as we were trying to help them. Some did stop but
many didn’t. One man had loaded three sacks into his carriage. I
jumped into the carriage and sat on the food and told him if he
wanted the food he would have to take me too. He set off at a gallop
with me pleading with him to stop and trying to explain to him that
we wanted to offer long-term help, but couldn’t if this was how we
were treated. He listened and stopped his horse. He shouted to many
of his friends who were riding past with the stolen food to stop and
they did. They crowded around and listened as I explained that we
were doing our best to help but needed them to co-operate. The man I
was with turned the carriage around and drove back to the place where
the truck had been mobbed.
“Word started to go around the village about what had
happened,” Sartain continued. “While we were waiting for the food
to be returned, we kept busy by treating wounds as best we could
with limited medical supplies. We also arranged for a local farrier
to attend one stable whose horses’ hooves were desperately in need of
attention. He trimmed 10 horses’ feet while we were there.”
Eventually 28 sacks of food were returned to ESMA. Local
stable owners donated another 26 sacks to help ESMA continue the
rescue mission.
Helping the Brooke and ESAF to distribute feed in Nazlet El
Saman on February 17, Dina Zulfikar “noticed that camel owners were
not included in the food distribution,” she told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “I
questioned this and called the directors of the Brooke, the Donkey
Sanctuary, and al Sherbiny. I told them that the ratio of horses
and donkeys to camels in the area is ten to one, and the camels need
food just like the equines.”
Confirmed al Sherbiny, whose work was funded by ANIMAL
PEOPLE and the Best Friends Animal Society, “The Brooke refused to
feed camels and Dina raised this point. I will push this issue
further. We are feeding camels with clover and treating all camels
that come to ESAF every day. The ESAF vet, Mohamed Gomaily, has
extensive experience and knowledge of camels and we will feed them
Said Whitelock of the Brooke, from London, “The Brooke’s
efforts are focused on working horses, donkeys and mules. Whilst we
recognize that camels are in need too, our mission is to help
equines. There are a huge number in desperate need at this time,
and these are also the animals our supporters are providing funding
for. We are working in collaboration with other organizations,”
Whitelock added, “one of which [ESAF] is not equine-specific.
Hopefully all animals will be helped, using each organization’s
Humane Society International veterinarian Hassan Al Maraghy
“has the camel feeding problem resolved,” ANIMAL PEOPLE president
Kim Bartlett learned after several days of back-and-forth. “This is
only temporary feeding, of course, and it is to be ended when the
tourists return.”
Maraghy on February 17 hosted an assessment visit by
Worldwide Veterinary Service founder Luke Gamble. Even estimates of
how many working animals need feeding were uncertain. As the March
2011 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE went to press, the Brooke estimate was
2,000 nationwide. ESMA estimated 3,000 in the pyramids region alone.
The Donkey Sanctuary said 7,000, citing government sources.
Some Egyptian animal advocates expressed hope that regime
change and the debut of new political parties might offer an
unprecedented opportunity to develop sympathetic voices within the
government. “I would be optimistic that if there is political reform
in Egypt, this is the time to have animal welfare represented,”
said Zulfikar. Currently, however, there is no unified umbrella
for Egyptian animal advocates, no agreed agenda among the existing
groups, and no organized pro-animal constituency.

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.