Sunday, 25 November 2012


Kuwait is a sprawling city dripping with excesses. It seems as if everyone on the road has a new car, a Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini or better (if there is such a thing). I must admit, I wasn't prepared for a tiger riding shotgun in a new, black, Range Rover Sports. The hotel driver (who had just collected me from my inbound flight) seemed uninterested in the sight, as if to be common place. As the vehicle sped past me the well dressed Kuwaiti man was talking on his mobile phone as the animal enjoyed the warm air blowing into its face as he took a leisurely drive. I straight away knew that I was in for an adventure in Kuwait that would not leave me enamoured with this wealthy countries approach to animals and their welfare.

I visited a local slaughterhouse called, Shuwaikh. It was a friday and the slaughter of sheep and goats was very slow but the workers at the slaughterhouse told me that it gets very busy during the week. Recent upgrades to the slaughterhouse included ramps to ensure the animal was not lying in blood and blinds to prevent one animal from seeing the slaughter of another. A raceway had been installed to make transfer of the animals from the buying area to the slaughterhouse more "friendly". All animals in the facility had access to food, water and shade and I was pleasantly surprised. 
My next stop was a nearby chicken slaughterhouse. Surprisingly chickens here were stunned using an electrical device. The manager told me this was to prevent the animal from feeling the pain of the knife. The unwanted rooster chicks were also send here for "humane euthanization" in a machine that gassed the chicks. Far from pleasant, but a lack of viable alternatives made it better than past methods apparently.
 Next was a stop at the nearby "friday market". A bustling, sprawling display of everything that a person could want. Food, clothes, perfumes, jewellery, house appliances and, unfortunately, pets! Sheep and goats filled one large area with the traders happy to provide a roadside slaughter and butchery facility. Adult dogs occupied another undercover area. Some people were pitting their dogs against others and men and children happily gathered to cheer on their favourite dog in the fight. Birds, kittens and puppies had their own section. As did poultry and fish. Exotic pets had another warehouse-like area. Everything from monkeys to big cats to raptors (including snow owls and large eagles) to bears to hyenas were available. "Delivery to anywhere in the world" was offered. Payment upfront, of course.

So far, unfortunately, it was apparent that money could buy anything the heart desired in Kuwait. As the hotel concierge said to me, "if you have a plane, a large boat, a ferrari and a wardrobe full of Armani clothes, why not buy a tiger and a dolphin for the kids? What seems absurd to the less fortunate is all possible to the rich."

The same man later told me that "if I was upset by the Friday Market, I should stay away from the Kuwait Zoo." What choice did I have? I had to visit! 
He wasn't wrong. The zoo was old school (as my son would say), old cement enclosures, totally devoid of any stimulation or enrichment of ay kind. The animals appeared well fed but "depressed". 

People queued, donation in hand, for pictures of themselves or their children, straddling a lion which by all accounts must have been sedated. Elephants, monkeys and tigers were forced to perform. The keepers bragged about the rapidness with which one of their big cats could overcome a live deer or donkey when herded into the enclosure and offered me the chance to witness it (for a fee of course!) One Pakistani keeper who appeared upset by the side businesses of his colleagues commented that this is the 3rd zoo in which he has worked in in the Middle East region that operated in such a way. He justified his continuance of employment by sighting that it was better than the zoo in Egypt and Amman, from which he had previously worked. He noted that conditions for the animals in summer can reach well above 50 degrees in Kuwait and many of the animals perish. 

All the money available to the Kuwait Government and this is the best they can do?

Tuesday, 13 March 2012


When I first considered visiting the Middle East region I was undecided where to start my journey. Various opinions from a number of educated friends left me even more confused than when I started.
One comment that stuck in my mind was from an interview I once heard where Sir David Attenborough mentioned that "one of the atrocities created against animals was the illegal capture and shipment of exotic African species to oil rich, opulent countries such as Saudi Arabia, the State of Kuwait & Qatar". Saudi Arabia seemed extremely difficult for me to access a visa to, so I flipped a coin between Qatar & Kuwait. Heads it was and I readied myself for my first experience in the Middle East, Qatar.                      

 Following news that Qatars only zoo had been closed for a year already and was intended to remain closed for another 2 years for the purpose of enclosure upgrades, I searched out other areas of animal trade.
 My first port of call was the "pet market". A bustling, vibrant "souq" filled with animals from all corners of the globe. Mostly marketed at children the animals were artificially coloured or fashionably dressed to increase their popularity. Lion, tiger and bear cubs were available for purchase. Raptors of every description were tethered and their hunting abilities lauded.
Monkeys of all forms were caged, drugged or performing at the demands of their captors.

I watched as a well known (to the traders) Jordanian man heavily bartered with the Egyptian trader on the price of 3 baby chimpanzees. Dressed in nappies and appearing scared as they huddled in the corner of their cage. When happy with his price he arranged the delivery of them to his "staff" who would ensure their passage to his facility. He boasted of his reputation for having the largest collection, best prices and uncanny ability to relocate these animals to anywhere in the world.

The following morning I  visited a large dairy and nearby slaughterhouse and was pleasantly surprised with the conditions that I saw before me. Far better than I had every imagined. The imported animals ("australian sheep" mostly) obviously far too valuable to allow to perish and the imported labor was threatened with their employment should they be ill treated. A quick visit to a chicken slaughterhouse left me pleased with the fact that Qatari business ventures such as these professional slaughterhouses appeared to have a good knowledge of animal welfare and at least made the process quick, clean and as respectful as possible. If only they could deal with the illegal animal trade and the housing conditions of those animals within it.

Friday, 3 February 2012


A quick trip to Indonesia on the rare blessing of additional holiday time and enough funds to finance such a venture proved to be a bitter sweet moment for me. The "Primate Centre" in the zoo in Jakarta proved surprisingly well managed. Animals had natural surroundings and ample opportunities for various forms of enrichment. All species seemed to thrive in the heavily vegetated and natural looking enclosures.

Other sections of the greater zoo were unfortunately far behind the Primate Centre in terms of animal welfare. Small cement enclosures with multiple layers of wire housed the large cats and bears. Poor conditions for the chained elephants and even performing animals seemed consistent with threads of concern voiced on the internet. Very unlike the Primate Centre, the orang-utan enclosure in the general zoo area was a nightmarish enclosure of cement where the animals are encouraged to smoke cigarettes to "keep calm". The large cats were skin and bone and upsetting to see.

The illegal trade of exotic animals appeared abundant upon my visit to a well known Surabayan pet market. Everything from owls to monkeys to orang-utans and tigers were available for purchase and a steady stream of wealthy expatriate professionals and international wildlife traders filed down the cage lined avenues.

Chained monkeys squealed and struck out in aggression and were regularly taunted by their owners to entice buyers to inspect the source of the movement and noise.

Others squeal as horrendous backyard dentists remove the animals teeth to ensure the new owner cannot be bitten. 

Shame Indonesia, shame!