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A donkey at the ACE, where working animals are cared for in Luxor, Egypt. Photos by Jessica Ocheltree.
A donkey at the ACE, where working animals are cared for in Luxor, Egypt. Photos by Jessica Ocheltree.

Animal Care in Egypt: Working for Working Animals

The first time that Kim Taylor saw Caraboosh, he had been standing outside a police station in Luxor for days without food or water. The horse was emaciated and near death. It turned out that his owner has been arrested and the police had just abandoned his cart and horse outside in the punishing Egyptian sun, where temperatures routinely reach well above 100 degrees.

She began bringing him food and water several times a day and was eventually able to convince the authorities to release Caraboosh into her care until the owner could claim him.

Caraboosh's story is just one of the many cases of abuse and neglect that working animals in Egypt suffer every day. Taylor's organization, Animal Care in Egypt (ACE), works to improve their conditions by providing free veterinary services, doing rescue work and offering public education.

Life in Luxor

Built on the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes, Luxor stretches along the sparkling Nile and draws millions of tourists each year to its sites, including the famous Karnak temple complex and the nearby Valley of the Kings.

In fact, it's a city that survives largely on the money outsiders bring in. In the bustling city center, you can hardly move without being accosted by horse-drawn cab drivers offering you a ride in their caleshes, boat captains wanting to take you sailing, and shop keepers trying anything to call your attention to their goods.

Outside of the tourist areas, though, Luxor is still very much a low-income agricultural region. On the roads outside of the city, air-conditioned tour buses zip past donkeys trotting along on the shoulder. Often the animals will be pulling carts loaded impossibly high with bricks or bags of cement. Others are pulling loads of produce into town, where they will have to compete with the hectic city traffic. Road accidents involving working animals are not uncommon.

A Hard-Knock Life

For all that the people of Luxor depend on their working animals, they are not always provided with the best of care. Part of the reason for this is ignorance. The belief that animals have feelings and are sensitive to pain and fear is not well-accepted in the Egyption culture. Striking animals is common practice and little thought is given to preventive measures. Animals are seen more as tools that will work until they die than as feeling creatures.

The other reason working animals suffer is the necessity of poverty. Even when an owner is fond of his animal, he may not be able to provide for all of its needs. When your meager income depends entirely upon one animal, you don't always have the option of letting it rest up when it's injured. Either the animal goes to work or your family doesn't eat. Wearing homemade and poorly fitting tack is a common cause of sores, which are not cleaned properly or given time to heal. Malnutrition, thrush caused by insufficient bedding and injuries from overgrown hooves are common problems.

ACE to the Rescue

Just over ten years ago, Julie Wartenberg and her niece Kim Taylor were so moved by the plight of the animals they saw while on holiday in Luxor that they decided to do something about it. Using money from her retirement, Wartenberg founded ACE and Taylor came to Egypt to run it.

In the beginning, they did little more than offer a free place for locals to bring their animals for a wash. They showed them that a little preventative cleaning could keep their animals healthy, free of sores and better able to work.

Over time, they expanded their efforts to offer free veterinary services. They will even board animals that require in-patient care at no cost to the owner. Several full-time Egyptian veterinarians work alongside volunteer vets from overseas to provide the necessary expertise. Now they are seeing between 3,000 and 5,000 animals a month.

ACE is also running an education program for local children. Every day from Monday to Thursday, 80 local kids are bussed in to have a lesson about caring for animals. Almost all of the children come from families that own or work with animals, but very few have been taught anything about animal welfare. Through songs and other activities, the teacher encourages them to think of animals as feeling creatures and to look after them, not only out of kindness, but because it is in their family's interest to do so.

A Typical Work Day

For the vets, the day starts around 8am with an examination of their in-patients. After medications have been administered and the observations about each animal recorded in their respective files, the vets meet to discuss a plan for the day and divvy up the various responsibilities.

After that, the daily treatments begin. Some of the vets will be working on the in-patients, who may be scheduled for surgeries or therapy. The others will man the out-patient office, where they will generally be treating donkeys, horses and camels for minor complaints, but they get an occasional pet dog or cat. They even see sheep and water buffalo on occasion. These vets have to be prepared for anything.

On weekdays, there will be kids coming in for classes, and an occasional tour group or visitor passes through as well. Non-medical volunteers are responsible for showing them around and telling them about the work that ACE does.

After a quick break for lunch around noon, it's back into the fray until about 5pm, when the clinic closes its doors to out-patients. Then the boarding animals are given an evening examination and their medications. There will be one final check at 10pm, and then it's lights out for the vets, unless an emergency comes in during the night.

Stopping By

Visitors are always welcome to stop by ACE for a tour. A volunteer will show you around the center and introduce you to some of the animals in their care. From the shade of the veranda, you are welcome to sit and watch their staff in action as they deal with the steady stream of animals through their gate. A number of cats and dogs call the ACE center their home, and they will be happy to keep you company.

In the visitors' center, you will find a selection of merchandise for sale and a great deal of educational material, including a photo display featuring some of their saddest cases of road accidents and their happiest success stories.

Of course, ACE will accept donations, but you can assist them even more by bringing difficult to obtain veterinary supplies. They are always in need of things like cohesive bandages, fly fringes, and ice packs. Tack and grooming supplies, duct tape, towels and leashes are also popular items to bring. A complete wish list is available on their website.

Getting There

ACE is located outside of Luxor proper, so the only way to get there is by car. Taking a taxi will probably run you about 30 Egyptian pounds from the center of town, depending on how well you negotiate with the driver. Another option is to hire a driver for the day. This can usually be done through your hotel and is fairly economical, particularly if you are planning on visiting other sights.

ACE has provided a map on their Web site to help you find them, but most of the local drivers know the name.

Other Useful Information

You can find a great deal of information on ACE's Web site, including details about upcoming events and items they are currently in urgent need of.

Jessica Ocheltree is a freelance writer and editor based in Tokyo. Her regular column on NGOs, Global Village, appears in Japan's number one English magazine. You can find selected clippings from the column and other media on her website.


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