Middle East Conference debates issues of animal welfare
The Middle East Network for Animal Welfare Conference which was held in Cairo, Egypt focused mainly on legislation and enforcement. International Animal Rescue's Malta representative Max Farrugia was in attendance and spoke about the local situation regarding the illegal hunting of wildlife and the smuggling of wild animals. Illegal hunting in Egypt - mainly by Italian and Maltese hunters - has been a problem for more than 20 years. Farrugia explained that every year large numbers of Maltese and Italian hunters flock to Egypt for the hunting. Thousands of protected species are killed annually - some of them very rare and highly endangered - and they end up stuffed in private collections. He added that a number of hunters who visited Egypt more than once had turned their hunting into a commercial enterprise by selling the carcasses of the dead birds and animals to third parties.
Max Farrugia also pointed out that there is hardly any enforcement in Egypt and the hunters are able to leave the country without being checked. On several occasions, in the case of Maltese hunters, wildlife has been confiscated by the Maltese Customs Officers and the Administrative Law Enforcement police following tip-offs. He explained how wildlife is easily smuggled out of Egypt. He also described how on some occasions the hunters would manage to avoid being searched by the police and would succeed in smuggling their goods into Malta.
Farrugia insisted that part of this wider problem could be solved by better law enforcement. It is pointless to have laws in a country unless action is taken to enforce them, he said. The main problem is corruption and this has to be tackled at its roots. Enforcement would eradicate or at least reduce corruption. He suggested that enforcement should be not only at a local level but also on a regional and international basis. He recommended the setting up of a regional force for the area to tackle the problem. A regional enforcement team made up of Police and Army officers would limit the crimes that take place on a daily basis. These officers would have to be highly trained and motivated.
This intervention generated considerable discussion. Whilst government officials repeatedly insisted that legislation exists, when confronted with the facts and figures on smuggled wildlife which has been confiscated in other countries from flights coming from Egypt, and asked to inform the floor how many individuals were caught leaving Egypt with their bags full of birds, they couldn't answer. The officials were most aggrieved to be singled out in this way and argued that illegal hunting took place even in Malta. Max Farrugia agreed with this, but added that, whereas in Malta action was being taken and the government has had to face a court case at the European Court of Justice thanks to the work of various NGOs, in Egypt nothing was being done. Instead, the government seemed to be pretending that there wasn't a problem. This created a great deal of interest and among those who supported Farrugia's view were HRH Princess Alia Al Hussein of Jordan and other representatives from Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt and Iraq.
A second issue which Max Farrugia spoke about passionately was the presence of wild animals in circuses, dolphinaria and zoos. He talked about the conditions of the animals when travelling, behind the scenes when not performing and during training. To support his interventions Farrugia quoted various international reports about what goes on behind the scenes. The reports included some by trainers who had been fired by their employers after giving interviews and taking pictures of what was going on. Whilst this created a lot of opposition from the local circus representatives who were present, on the other hand it generated a lot of favourable interest too. The general feeling was that circuses must stop using wild animals.
Delegates at the conference came from the majority of countries in the Middle East, as well as other countries including the UK and USA, Australia, Singapore, Austria and Malta. During the three days they discussed a range of issues including the impact of livestock on the environment; the current status of animal welfare protection; pain assessment; cooperation amongst local, regional and international groups; the improvement of conditions for animals in captivity, particularly in zoos and dolphinaria, and the issue of law enforcement.