By Cam McGrath
At a small pet shop in an upscale Cairo neighbourhood, puppies, kittens and sickly-looking parakeets occupy the cages behind the storefront window. But if you want more exciting and exotic animals – such as crocodiles or lion cubs – just ask behind the counter.
Trade in wild animals is banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), of which Egypt is a signatory. But decades of ineffective border controls and police indifference have made the country a major hub for the trafficking of wildlife.
Conservationists suspect that criminal gangs have expanded their networks and stepped up shipments of protected and endangered species under cover of the political turmoil that has engulfed the region since the start of the Arab Spring.
“Since the revolution in 2011, Egypt has fewer resources for enforcement, and traffickers have recognised this,” an environment ministry official told IPS. “The country is facing many serious political and economic problems, and checking shipments for wildlife is not a priority.”
Cairo is less a destination than a transit point for animals trafficked from Africa to markets in Asia and the Arab Gulf states. Rare and endangered animals are concealed in air and sea shipments, or smuggled overland through the porous borders of Libya and Sudan.
In recent years, authorities have seized satchels full of dying tortoises, rare birds stuffed into toilet paper rolls with their beaks tied shut, and a pair of dolphins floundering in a murky swimming pool. Foreign customs officers have also discovered baby chimpanzees drugged with cough syrup and crammed into crates shipped from Egypt.
Many of the trafficked animals are kept in rented apartments in Cairo and Alexandria that act as showrooms for prospective buyers. Others fill the overcrowded and dirty cages of disreputable pet shops, or end up in the country’s growing number of private zoos.
One licensed pet store in Cairo’s Zamalek district had its front end geared for the pampered pets of the district’s affluent residents, with imported pet foods, rhinestone studded dog collars, and colourful catnip toys. Further back the shop catered to more exotic tastes, with pens of juvenile crocodiles, caged fennec foxes, and a full-grown vulture that was eventually sold to a local businessman for 1,200 dollars.
The pet store was shuttered last year after municipal authorities acted on residents’ complaints. More....