When it comes to Cairo, the eyes of the world are usually drawn to the ongoing struggle between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood in the aftermath of last year’s Arab Spring revolutions. But, as Danielle McIntosh examines, too often there is an unseen side to such conflicts, and animals can be victims just as much as humans.
With the amount of international coverage that Cairo has attracted recently, a growing organisation that aims to heal Cairo’s horses, donkeys and camels and educate their owners might just give you a new perspective on the people of this divided city.
The organisation is called ‘Prince Fluffy Kareem’, or PFK for short, named after a cheeky grey stallion they rescued in June 2011. Kareem was found in an emaciated, dehydrated state, suffering from equine malaria and with sores all over his body. The transformation that took place under the care of PFK is quite unbelievable and Kareem is now happy, healthy, and living in luxury – relative to most of the animals in Cairo.
The story of Kareem is not an isolated one. In fact, almost all the horses, donkeys, and camels in Cairo live their entire lives in an undernourished state. This is in part due to the poor quality of life of people living in Cairo, but alongside this is the lack of education about proper animal care in Egypt.
Egypt’s economy relies heavily on tourism. Unfortunately, with the revolution which took place between January and February 2011 and the military toppling of President Mohammad Morsi this summer, tourism has completely collapsed. Egypt’s people live in poverty, there is rioting and fear of further unrest, the education and health systems are incredibly poor, a huge percentage of women are circumcised, and some families are so poor they have to sell their daughters’ virginity to rich Saudi Arabians. People have been looting the pyramids, Egypt’s biggest tourist attractions, out of utter desperation, even though they know the implications this will have for future generations. Marte, a founder of PFK writes on the organisations Facebook page: “This is not the Western world. When you are born poor here, you have minimal, minimal chances of raising your living standards… [This is] a society where children dig in trash for a living, we cannot expect people to have awareness for animal rights; the people don’t even have basic human rights.”
Marte, who was born and lived in Norway, now dedicates each day to helping Egyptian animals and their owners to have healthier, easier lives. She and Sherif, a vet, run the PFK stables together with the help of a handful of other skilled and dedicated people from around the globe. Even after three years of living in Egypt, Marte is still overwhelmed by what she sees on a daily basis. In one of her updates on the PFK Facebook page, she tells us about a mother who gave birth to a daughter who was paralysed from the waist down, saying: “They have no money for a wheelchair, and there is no special school she can go to. So her life consists of dragging herself around on her arms on the concrete floor, in the dust with the family’s hens”.
Life for the animals isn’t very different. Before the political unrest, the majority of Egyptians living in the pyramid district of Cairo earned a living from taking tourists around the Giza Pyramids on their horses and camels. Using animals to earn money is the only resort that many people living in the city have, but with no tourists, there are very few who can care for themselves and their families, let alone their animals.
As a result of this decline in care, working animals in Cairo; horses, donkeys and camels commonly suffer from malnutrition, starvation, equine malaria, pressure sores (some larger than a human hand) caused by ill-fitting tack (saddles and bridles, etc.), and other lesions caused from falls, overcrowding with other animals, or mistreatment.
Owners simply do not have the knowledge or means to prevent illnesses like these happening. Some of the images and stories on the PFK Facebook page are very hard hitting, and it is very easy to judge the people of Cairo according to the standards of animal care we take for granted in the UK. However with the situation in Egypt being so extreme, and cultural norms entirely different to our own, these people do not need punishment, but rather help, understanding, and education.
This is why the work of PFK is so important. With their success over the years, PFK now owns a significant plot of land, nicknamed ‘Fluffylandshire’, where the animals can enjoy free food, water, space, shade, sand and company. Flocks of local horse owners come to take part in the regular clinics that PFK provide, receiving free medical treatment for their animals and advice on how to care for them. Not only do the PFK team treat any horse, donkey or camel that arrives at their gates, they also foster and adopt those who are really in need, providing care of a standard that not many others can provide in such troubled times. As both space and (more surprisingly) sand are a luxury in Cairo, with most owners only be able to provide a small enclosed concrete yard, some animals even come for a special and well deserved PFK ‘holiday’, where they rest until they’re ready to go back to work. Fluffylandshire is truly a place of kindness, understanding (for both animals and their owners), and healing.
PFK also organises projects which aim to provide information on animal welfare directly to local people. During ‘The Fluffy Feet Farrier Project’ Australian vet Dr. Jude Mulholland visited to teach local farriers about common equine foot problems and how to treat them. Likewise, ‘The Fluffy Tooth Fairy Project’ helps pass on information about treating common equine dental issues. Projects like these are incredibly important in Cairo, because without them, incorrect or inefficient methods of treatment will be used again and again, often to no avail.
Of course, looking after a large number of sick animals in a desperate city is expensive. PFK is only able to stay afloat with the help of donations and the hard work of its dedicated international staff. In the past two years the organisation has moved from having supporters in their hundreds, to 60,000 likes on Facebook. Their daily updates, along with thousands of fascinating photographs of their work and the animals they provide for can be found on their Facebook page, and are very informative and entertaining. So if you ever need a break from studying… or reading about Exeter’s Horniest Student, visit www.facebook.com/princefluffykareem for a glimpse into a different world and the hope that it brings for Egypt’s animals.
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