(Written by Declan Walsh)
A trip to the storied pyramids of Giza was supposed to be a highlight of Noémi Haszon’s Egyptian vacation. But the Hungarian tourist was shaken and revolted by what she had witnessed.
Inside the pyramids complex, emaciated horses panted and strained as they pulled buggies loaded with tourists up a steep slope. Drivers whipped them to make them go faster.
Despite the summer heat, there was no water supply.
“I was shocked,” Haszon recalled. “Those poor horses. It was like another world.”
For years, the sense of wonderment experienced by visitors at Egypt’s great sites, like the pyramids of Giza or the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, has been spoiled by scenes of heart-rending cruelty toward the animals working there.
In outraged posts on Facebook or in emails to Egyptian animal rights groups, they have described collapsing horses, sickly camels and emaciated mules. A bustling camel market outside Cairo features beatings of camels and animals with bloodied faces.
Now the campaign group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, is calling on tourists to boycott all working animals at Egypt’s major tourist sites.
But what constitutes ethical tourism in an impoverished country like Egypt is a matter of debate, even among animal rights groups. Animal rides provide a livelihood for thousands of Egyptian families, and some groups argue it is better to reform their abusive ways rather than shun them entirely.
And many owners insist they treat their animals well and say they should not be penalized for the misdeeds of others.
At the Brooke Hospital for Animals in Cairo’s Syeda Zainab district, Dr Mohammed Hammad swung back a stall door to reveal a skinny horse with protruding hips and a large wound on its rear.
The horse was wounded by an accident at the pyramids that led to an infection.
When it comes to tourism, the Brooke organization encourages tourists to be vigilant of animal abuse instead of boycotting the rides — urging visitors to watch out for signs of malnutrition and to refuse to ride with an owner who whips his animals.
Rather than shunning the owners, the animal hospital tries to cajole them into better behaviour, often by appealing to their pockets.