Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Jordania (Kingdom of Jordan)

Unfortunately due to what I thought at the time was a flat battery, but later turned out to be a terminally damaged camera, I was unable to retrieve pictures from the trip. I will include internet images (if available) of anything I found similar with my visit to Jordan. Apologies.

As always, I started my process with the obligatory google research. I try to limit the opinions I read so as not to arrive with preconceived ideas but research more-so to ensure I can logistically organise where I'm going and to finance the trip. However, on this occasion when inputting, "Kingdom of Jordan animal welfare" into google I was amazed that the first few pages were dedicated to "Humane Centres" and "Animal Rights Awareness groups" etc. I was intrigued and pleasantly surprised. Here seemed to be a country, sorry Kingdom, that had a sound knowledge and responsible standing on the humane treatment of animals. Not only was it part of the Kingdoms law, but it was endorsed by Royalty. None other than the King of Jordan, King Abdullah II, his wife, Queen Rani, the Kings sister, Princess Alia (who also appears to have a foundation dedicated to animals, at least named in her honour) and a list of other royal signatories. Hallelujah! This was going to be a good news story, a visit that was going to reinstate my faith in humanity. A chance to reset my chi, as it were. 

Unfortunately what I witnessed once I arrived was something of a polar opposite to what I read about on the internet. Shortly after leaving the airport I was unfortunate enough to see a grossly overburdened donkey being whipped to continue forward movement. Its hind legs quivering under the extreme load of what appeared to be used bricks. A solitary case surely? Only 2 minutes further I witnessed a young boy selling puppies on the roadside. Holding them in his small hand, offering them to passing traffic for purchase. 

Lunch at a small eatery nearby to my hotel in the bustling city of Amman was interrupted by a veritable parade of street dogs and cats, squabbling over any scrap that fell from the mouths or plates of patrons, seemingly each animal with some form of defect or another.
On my way to visit the Roman ruins (yes, Amman has Roman ruins, fascinating to see) known as The Citadel I enjoyed the sights and sounds and smells that seem consistent with all Middle Eastern countries. I passed a number of shops selling pet fish and birds of all descriptions. I got talking (as best I could with his limited English) to one very happy, helpful and proud Jordanian man. I explained that I was in Amman to write a story on the treatment of animals around the world. As soon as he heard and understood the word animal he motioned to his young assistant to come quickly. Before I knew what was happening I was whisked off up a lane way, through the rear of another shop to a house (?) at the rear. A multitude of caged puppies (and nursing bitches) were pointed at as arabic words were shouted at me. What could only be described as a "puppy farming operation" laid before me. I shrugged in apology that I couldn't understand what the young man was trying to convey. Off we went again, upstairs, caged, chained monkeys of all descriptions were led to me. More (what looked like) puppies in a box were offered up, "hyena, hyena" the boy said, pointing to the box. It was time for me to leave. I'd seen enough.

My next day was a planned tour to Petra, a place that had long been on my to-do list. The early start was refreshing as was the cold Jordan climate. Unfortunately I slept on the bus and missed much of the countryside but woke to the most beautiful "dessert-like" scenery as we neared our goal. The walk into Petra is a long, arduous slog, something they forget to mention in the brochure. Opportunistic businessmen (and ladies) have capitalised on this by providing a horse, donkey or camel back journey into the "treasury site". The animals were extremely poorly maintained, skinny beasts. People of ALL sizes were catered for at the cost of the animals strength and posture. YouTube has many posts of overweight/obese people riding small donkeys up the seriously steep inclined stairways, including some where people on foot get quite passionate at those exploiting the animal service. 
Unfortunately this was also the case upon my visit to the Dead Sea. Camels and horses exploited for money. Entrepreneur businessmen charging tourists for photo opportunities and rides on their poorly maintained animals. An over worked camel that refused to rise when a group of children clambered onboard its back was yanked (by a rope through its nose) and whipped as it bellowed in defiant disagreement at its handler.

My next day was a less formally structured one. A self paced drive through the outer-city streets. Sheep and goats of all denominations were witnessed for sale, penned in small roadside stalls, devoid of any food or water. Men offered me the opportunity to buy the animal at my own selection and also the service of slaughtering and cutting the animal into manageable chunks, roadside. Chicken shops (no not fried, live!) seemed to be regularly spotted throughout every small town. Sick, injured, weak and in some cases featherless birds crammed into cages for the remainder of their life before being turned into the local delicacy of chicken mansouf. 

My 10 day stay in Jordan was starting to seem like it was bound to be an excessively long and torturous stay. Where were the good news stories that I read about? I decided to consult google again and seek out something positive.

 I read numerous stories of the collaboration between Princess Alia (or The Princess Alia Foundation) and the Australian Government in the renovation and improvements to Jordanian slaughterhouses (many sheep and cows are delivered from Australia to Jordan by ship). I decided to visit the largest in Amman. Referred to as the Greater Amman Municipal slaughterhouse it was situated in the densely populated city centre. A strange location for what (in most countries) would be a "dirty business". The Greater Amman Municipal slaughterhouse was a buzz with people and trucks. From sticking my head inside the slaughterhouse door I could see that meat consumption was obviously big business in Jordan. What must have been hundreds of sheep and cows were hanging from rails, the floor red with blood and bins overfilling with the disused innards. I witnessed ritual-like slaughter of sheep, man power holding the animal down as another man cut across its neck following a shout to the Islamic God, Allah. A high tech conveyor-looking device was to one side, unused as sheep were dragged out of a steel constructed alley leading from the back area. As I passed a larger door I saw men scrambling as an animal had somehow escaped the holding pens and was running rampage in the area where the animals are obviously normally killed and skinned. One "brave" butcher dispatched of it by slicing its neck with a razor sharp knife and the animal slumped to the ground to cheers from frightened onlooking butchers. One positive was that I noticed a large stunning device hanging above what seemed to be a relatively well kept steel box for catching the large cows. Unfortunately not used on this occasion. Other previously dispatched animals lie motionless on the floor in pools of blood. The door was shut in front of me. Hygiene was non existent! As i rounded the corner I saw a chicken slaughterhouse. One look inside showed that this was not part of the animal welfare improvements discussed in the media articles on google. I glanced inside but upon seeing a man swinging a chicken by its head, I couldn't force myself to view anymore. Passing a large truck, men were seen to be aggressively unloading helpless sheep from within it using homemade sticks fashioned with nails. Where does it stop? As i made my way back to the car I witnessed what was obviously the town wholesale meat market, burly men seemed to auction off animal carcasses in a total disorganised confusion. Refrigeration containers not used as meat lay out on cardboard flooring in the open air, I started to question food hygiene and decided on packet noodles for the remainder of my stay.

I struggled to locate a zoo at the address that I copied down previously so it was back to my trusted smart phone for another google fact-finding mission. I visited 2 zoos (if you can call them that). Absolutely despicable displays of animal husbandry faced me. Cement enclosures. No enrichment of any form. 5 freedoms seemed a fairytale at this point and I jokingly thought to myself that these animals would be satisfied with 1 freedom to start with. Zoo keepers asking for donations. Zoo keepers offering other (obviously middle eastern men) the opportunity to buy monkeys and big cat cubs. Haggling ensued between the seller and buyer and humorously between other sellers (keepers). Once the 3 locally dressed men left I approached the keeper pretending to be interested in a similar purchase. He was wary and told me he didn't deal in it directly but his brother did. He pointed me in the direction of advertisements on my phone once more. [SB attach screen capture]

My new friend and guide, Mohammed (keeper) followed me throughout the zoo for the remainder of my stay, taking every opportunity to update me on animal/zoo facts and statistics. He told me that the big cats (long time favourites of mine) are regularly given "live kills" of dairy bull calves and roosters from his employers dairy and chicken farms. Animals deemed unprofitable or unwanted [presumed]. When I asked if he could deliver a lion cub to my home in Saudi Arabia (lie) he commented "no problem, it will be done. My boss he has good relations with border guards". It seems animal trading is alive and well in the Kingdom of Jordan. Mohammed stuck his hand out for his "tour-guide" tip!

I decided to cut the remainder of my visit short and head home before my disappointment in humanity spilled into the depths of irreversible depression. Jordan is a Kingdom full of beauty, wonder, tradition and culture but undoubtedly one of the worst displays of animal exploitation, pain and suffering that I have seen.

Before leaving I researched more about the structure of Jordans' government and its agriculture department. It seems, for all the goodwill messages from the King himself down, regarding the treatment of animals, The Jordanian government nor the Jordanian Royal Family do not even employ an animal welfare adviser within its department of agriculture nor  do they have trust and confidence in the capabilities of their "agriculture police" to fight off the advances of corruption and exploitation.

Next step from me is a letter to his royal highness voicing my disappointment.

Shame Jordan shame. Such a disappointing visit for all the hype.