Shadow of Equus: A Time of Turmoil for Equines in Egypt

By Margaret Evans

In early 2011, the uprising in Egypt saw millions of protesters from all socio-economic and religious backgrounds come together to demonstrate against grievances that had been festering for a long time. Egyptians were angry at a whole host of issues including police brutality, the harsh state of emergency laws in which their constitutional rights were suspended, lack of free elections and freedom of speech, uncontrollable corruption, high unemployment, food price inflation, and cripplingly low minimum wages. They wanted a say in how their country and its resources were run and who was at the helm.

The one person Egyptians didn’t want any more in the top job was President Hosni Mubarak, who had become head of Egypt’s government following the 1981 assassination of President Anwar El Sadat. His 30-year reign made him the longest serving president in Egypt’s history and his National Democratic Party governed in a perpetual state of authoritarian emergency rule. Change was long overdue. Buoyed by the successful revolution led by their Tunisian neighbours, who had ousted their long-time President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, the Egyptian protesters set out to achieve nothing less than Mubarak’s resignation. It came on February 11, 2011.

Crowds gather in Giza as horse owners wait to receive horse feed provided by the Brooke. Photo: Courtesy the Brooke Hospital for Animals

But while they were focused and determined in their quest for a better life, thousands of workers who were using horses, donkeys, and mules to earn a living in the suddenly collapsing tourism industry and satellite industries found themselves without an income to care for their animals.

“When the political situation in Egypt deteriorated in February, Brooke teams assessed the need and potential risks of those equine animals that are mainly used in the tourism industry,” said Dr. Mohamed Madany, community development officer for the Brooke Hospital for Animals in Cairo. “Due to the political upheavals, tourism came to a complete halt and equine owners, especially tourism horse carriage owners, had no income at all and ran out of feed, which put their animals at high risk of starvation and illness.”

Brooke vet Dr. Ammr Mahmoud checks horses. The Brooke hospitals in Egypt treat equines for wounds, exhaustion, parasites, infections, and diseases. Photo: Courtesy the Brooke Hospital for Animals

The Brooke Hospital for Animals is a London, UK based charity that provides free veterinary care to working equines in third world countries as well as offering advice and education to owners and their families. From the vision of their founder, Dorothy Brooke, who opened the first clinic in Cairo, Egypt, in 1934, the organization has grown to provide lifesaving veterinary care to nearly 743,000 horses, donkeys, and mules in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Central America. In Egypt alone, they provide help to working equines in 200 communities across seven regions including Cairo, Luxor, Edfu, Aswan, Alexandria, Mersa Matruh, and the Nile Delta.

“(We treat) wounds from poor harness (lip lesions, breast and shoulder lesions), tethering, and hobbling, wounds from overloading (lesions to the knee, leg, and hock), exhaustion, parasites such as lice, ticks, fleas, and mites, as well as gastrointestinal infections, and skin and respiratory diseases,” explained Madany.

Brooke vet Dr. Ammr Mahmoud examines a horse. Since February, Brooke veterinarians have provided over 16,000 treatments. Photo: Courtesy the Brooke Hospital for Animals

Since the collapse of tourism in February, around 80,000 kilograms of feed had been distributed to more than 8000 animals and over 16,000 veterinary treatments have been administered in Cairo, Edfu, Aswan, and Luxor, where equines suffer from a wide range of problems. In those regions, the Brooke targeted 2000 horses, donkeys, and mules at high risk and whose owners were solely dependent on tourism.

“It was difficult during the first few weeks when the crisis was at its peak in February as it was not perceived safe enough for the mobile teams to visit certain areas and there was also a curfew,” said Madany. “But emergency care continued to be provided in key areas as well as providing animal feed and water in the clinics at all times.”

Because of the Brooke’s long standing work in Egypt, they were able to benefit from their relationships in various communities. They knew right away where animals might be at risk during the political crisis due to a rapid fall-off of income.

Horses eat feed provided by the Brooke. Since February, the Brooke has distributed over 80,000 kilograms of feed. Photo: Courtesy the Brooke Hospital for Animals

“Assessments in all operational areas (across key destinations in Egypt) were conducted in mid-February and, based on the findings, certain areas with identified groups of equines at high risk were chosen for the emergency feeding project.”

In the region of the pyramids, the Brooke is continuing to provide feed due to an ongoing need and they are working in cooperation with other animal welfare organizations such as The Donkey Sanctuary and the Egyptian Society for Animal Friends (ESAF). In April the three organizations launched a special six-month education program for horse owners around the pyramids to heighten and improve animal welfare.

Given the domino effect of unrest across the Middle East, the Brooke’s services will likely be in high demand. In the coming year, the organization plans to extend its reach to 1.1 million animals and expand into new countries. A year ago, they began work in Senegal in West Africa where there exists a high level of human poverty and where nearly one million working equines experience problems with sickness and disease. To address the needs of the people and their animals, the Brooke has been working in partnership with Agronomes et Veterinaires Sans Frontieres (Agriculturalists and Veterinary Surgeons without Borders).

Meanwhile in Egypt, life is slowly returning to normal and conditions are constantly being reassessed.

“Since the situation has calmed down, movement has become easier again, although the teams are still careful when travelling,” said Madany.

If you would like to learn more about the Brooke and consider a donation toward their worldwide effort to bring relief to working equines, visit their website,

Main article photo: Courtesy the Brooke Hospital for Animals - The horse of carriage driver Abo El-Ela in Luxor eats food provided by the Brooke. Egypt’s tourism industry was hit hard by the civil unrest which began in February, making it increasingly difficult for carriage horse owners to feed their animals.

This article originally appeared in the June 2011 issue of Canadian Horse Journal.

Rescue & Welfare
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