Thursday 24th December 2009.
A phone call Thursday evening alerted me to the fact that there was a shipment of animals on our border in Aqaba. “What kind of animals?” I asked, all sorts of things going through my mind. It turns out that they were lions and tigers coming from Egypt en route to Lebanon to perform in the Monte Carlo circus they have there at the moment. Why through Jordan? I thought to myself. Well it became all too clear that this was intended to cut costs on the side of the Egyptians. The animals were to be transported from Egypt, to Jordan, on to Syria and then finally into Lebanon all on the back of a truck!
Obviously our hands were tied as we could not refuse entry into the country and also came the thought, if we don’t let them in where would they go? They would be held at the border for who knows how long until they figured out what to do. The only thing to do was to ensure the health and safety of these animals whilst in our borders. Having a little bit of background knowledge about how animals are transported, we very quickly jumped into action. I called our partners at the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM), Animal Welfare department hoping that they would be able to help. After explaining to them what was going on in Aqaba I was met with, “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of it”. My sense of relief at the fact that I managed to mobilise a team who actually cared about their work was more than you can imagine. Within an hour of the initial phone call an action plan was in place and the team of 9 people from GAM worked through the night prepapring all that they needed to take with them down to Aqaba. All the while having to deal with me breathing down their necks to get someone to the port of Aqaba to check on the situation of the animals.
Seeing as these were animals that we, here in Jordan, have very little experience with I very quickly contacted a dear friend and advisor half way around the world in Australia to ask for assistance in gathering information on how to best help the animals. Lo and behold, within half an hour, contacts had been made spanning the globe and information started to pour in!
Armed with food, medication and a huge amount of determination our team headed down to Aqaba in the early hours of Friday morning.
Friday 25th December 2009.
“We’re here”, came the familiar voice down the phone, although instead of the jovial tone, which I was used to, I heard stress, anger and possibly a hint of choking back a few tears. This is what they saw on arriving at the docks…
“Where are the animals?” the head of the team asked.
“In there”, the Egyptian worker responsible for the animals answered with a tangible lack of expression.
As it turns out the animals had been loaded into the crates on the 21st of December, when they left Egypt for Jordan. After much discussions and a number of different stories we finally managed to determine that the animals had been closed in this transport since that time and no one had even had the sense to open the sides of the flaps during their very long trip. When asked about food and water we were met with many blank looks. The animals had not been fed or watered for at least 2 days.
After moving the trucks off the main docking area into a slightly more quiet area the flaps were opened for the first time since they started their journey…
We had prior knowledge that there was also a lion cub with the 5 lions and 3 tigers on the transport and after scouring the two transport vehicles we finally found her.
Our vet got to work very quickly checking the status of all the animals. They were all under weight and were showing signs of dehydration, which one would only expect after being kept in the dark with no food and water for 2 days. The main concern was the cub. Although she was moving around she was weak, disorientated and dehydrated. We were also horrified to discover, on closer inspection, that she had been declawed and her paws were still raw in the places where her claws should have been. This procedure has been banned in the US and most countries in Europe but I have been told that it has not reached legislation; something we can definitely work on, just take a look at the photo and tell me I’m wrong.
Very quickly 40 Kg’s of raw meat was acquired and we set about feeding the animals. Our first instinct was to give the animals as much as we could but we feared for their health as they had not eaten for a few days and we had no way of knowing what food they were used to anyway, being in captivity at the zoo in Egypt. We decided to give them a few Kilos of meat each as a first meal and placed buckets of water in front of all of them and allowed them to take their time drinking. You can just imagine the sounds emanating from inside the transport vehicles when the lions and tigers got their first whiff of the meat.
Pondering what we could do we each had our own private dreams of being able to confiscate the animals and try somehow to get them back to their native homes in the savannahs of Africa. A dream we would not see become a reality. The paperwork seemed to be legal. The only option we had was to try to move the animals across to the Syrian border and through to their end destination as soon as possible. Yet again we turned our attention to the cub. She was in no fit state to travel. After having her first meal and long drink in days we waited until we saw her regain some of her strength. The vet stayed with her whilst the rest of the team headed into town to get supplies for the convoy in preparation of the long trip ahead. Note; all this was acquired at GAM’s expense. It became all too apparent that the Egyptians had hoped to get the animals to the circus in Lebanon with no food or water so as not incur added cost! After insisting that the cages be cleaned and new and ample amounts of straw was laid down for each of the animals, we were ready to continue.
Laden with kilos of raw meat packed in coolers and gallons of water, and after assuring that the cub was fit to continue the journey under the watchful eye of our vet, we left Aqaba at 5:00pm and headed towards Amman. It is usually a three and a half hour journey to Amman, but we reached the outskirts of Amman by midnight, as we insisted that the trucks stop every hour in order to open the flaps of the vehicles and allow for some ventilation for the animals, as well as checking on the darling little cub and giving the animals water on the way. By midnight the convoy had reached Jiza, just outside Amman, where the drivers announced that they could go no further as they were exhausted by the drive. Yet again we were faced with a decision. We new the faster the animals were transported the better as it meant the less time spent in containment. However we weighed up the risks of one of the drivers falling asleep at the wheel and having an accident. We decided to stop for the night. We had enough food and water with us for the animals, so after securing a safe spot off the road and giving the animals another meal and leaving water for them we headed off for the night.
Saturday 26th December 2009.
By 7:30am the whole team was back with the convoy. The animals and crew were safe and we set about our new routine of opening up the transport vehicles and allowing the animals some fresh air and sunlight. All of them were given a good breakfast and more water and soaked up some of the early morning sun. Even the little cub was doing well. We decided that it was time she came out of the confinement of her tiny cage and move around a little. We were truly blessed that one of the team had had some experience with handling large cats (don’t ask me how!) and he tended to the cub.
Having been fed, watered and had a little bit of a walkabout, we all breathed a sigh of relief at the fact that she was doing so much better. She showed us just how much better she was feeling by affording a very lucky member of our team with a huge hug!!
Having secured the animals again and making sure their bedding had been changed and replenished we headed north towards the Syrian border, stopping along the way to air and check on the animals and bringing out the cub to walk around some more as we each fell more and more in love with her.
Finally we reached the Jaber border crossing. I haven’t mentioned it yet, but throughout the very long journey, there were e-mails coming in from concerned parties from all around the world as we desperately tried to secure that the animals would be tended to by other concerned individuals once they were out of our care. I have to say here that it was heart warming to see the legitimate concern and speed of action from all those who knew what was going on and restored a little of my faith in mankind, after what I had witnessed.
At the border we managed to speed along the processing of the papers, while we busied ourselves again tending to the animals. The flaps were opened and we fed the animals the rest of the meat we had. Originally we had wanted to give the rest of the meat to the crew continuing on with the animals, but yet again we were faced with a judgment call. Were we to trust them to actually feed the meat to the animals? Or would they keep it for themselves? This may seem a little harsh, but please bear in mind that they had kept the animals without food and water for the days prior to us arriving on the scene, so we were justified in our doubts. After some debate we decided that it would be better to feed the rest of the meat to the animals; we had 24kg’s left and this way we knew that each one of them had received a full days feed (large cats in captivity eat an average of 5-7Kg’s of meat per day – Google is a wonderful tool!). Having replenished the straw under each of the animals and making sure they were secure, with heavy hearts, we bade farewell to the magnificent animals as they drove off to complete the next leg of their journey. Silent prayers were said hoping that they would reach their destination safely, and with that we wearily headed home wishing that there were something more we could do.
Full credit must be given to the team of 9 dedicated people from GAM who worked tirelessly from the minute we were informed of the presence of the animals in Jordan, until they crossed the border into Syria. Without their clarity of thought and quick action we have great doubts that the cub would have survived the trip through Jordan. Next time we are so quick to judge our lack of commitment to animals in this country, we must all stop and remember that we do have dedicated, able and caring people who are willing to work hard to make a difference, for nothing in return other than the satisfaction of having done a good thing for other living creatures who share this world with us.
We have been tracking the progress of the convoy and until this very hour Sunday 27th December 2009, 8:50pm; the animals have still not reached their destination.