Heads-Up: How To Make Horse-Friendly Choices in Egypt
“I’ll give you another $200,” said the Egyptian tour guide to the horse cart drivers at Edfu. “But on a condition: you don’t whip the horses.”
The situation at the Temple of Horus in Edfu in is unique in two ways. One, the local carriage drivers have mafia-style monopolised the route from the cruise ships to the temple. This means tourists’ only option is to ride ‘hantoor’ (horse and cart). Two, the cart horses are consistently mistreated.
“I’ve tried to work with them, believe me,” the guide explained to us. We had remained on the Nile River cruise boat while other tour groups left to visit the Edfu temple. “But I had no choice in the end.”
Ever since his failed bargain with the hantoor driver, the guide and his tour company have refused to make Edfu a destination in their Egypt tours. The guide started a Facebook campaign and now several other tour companies also avoid the temple site. But does it make any difference to the horses? Hold that thought.
We Don’t Have to Ban the Hantoor
It’s true that hantoors are a traditional part of Egyptian culture and make many locals’ livelihoods. A look at the streets of major Egyptian cities will show you hantoor carts pulling tourists among the traffic. But while some of the horses are well-fed and gently driven, many are whipped, overloaded, or skinny.
Who would want to ride behind a horse whose ribs are showing and who is half the size of its cart? What about experiencing a ten-year-old kid thrashing an animal as a matter of course? Yet in Egypt I saw tourists choosing to do this for transport or just as an activity.
Like my tour guide, many Egyptians are concerned for horse and camel welfare and urge harsher penalties for their mistreatment. But the issue is bigger than the lack of animal welfare laws: the truth is, not enough tourists care.
Tourist voices matter in Egypt. Last month tourist complaints over the treatment of horses in Edfu saw 27 hantoor handler licenses rescinded, 50 whips confiscated, and significant fines issued in the city of Aswan. Last year the head of the city’s Local Unit revoked 120 licenses after he saw a shoddy carriage flip with tourists still inside (he made sure the tourists were given a new carriage to continue their ride).
Use Your Tourist Influence
PETA calls for ‘bold action’ in the form of banning the hantoor outright, but this doesn’t mean hantoor horses will be cared for any better in other roles. Perhaps the real bold change would be for tourists to be aware, speak up, and make responsible choices.
Support the drivers who treat their horses well. You can assess this with your own eyes, and a good tour guide will have relationships with ethical drivers. Make it clear to the driver that you don’t want the horses whipped. If hantoor or camel rides are in your itinerary, question your tour company about the animals’ welfare. Importantly, if you’re not happy with what you find, don’t participate.
My tour guide doesn’t rule Egypt. He influences it with his example. This is something we all do with our choices, and giving the Edfu hantoors the flick is a great start.