Sunday, 28 April 2013

Thank you to all the great people who have been emailing and commenting on my blog. Unfortunately the rigours of work have got in the way of replying to everyone.
For those asking about my next "holiday" all I can say is that it is not yet decided when and where I will be going. After my Jordanian experience I am keen to save up and to ensure I can stay in the next place for an extended stay just like I did in the Kingdom of Jordan.
Hopefully the next trip will be far more positive than the trip to Jordan was. Seth.

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.

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!

Thursday, 27 October 2011


Before arriving in Thailand I was well aware of the countries' poor animal welfare record. From the moment of arrival at the International Airport it was apparent that these "rumours" were in fact reality. Elephants walking the road adjacent to the airport "begging" for money were the first signs.

Reluctantly I decided to dig deeper and visit a zoo.

Sriracha Tiger Zoo in Pattaya, Thailand, boasts that it is the biggest zoo of its kind in the entire world—but is this really something to brag about? The zoo imprisons 200 tigers, while a staggering number of crocodiles languish in muddy, crowded pits nearby.
Crocodile, elephant, tiger shows and pig-racing events take place daily, with opportunities for tourists to have their photo taken with donkeys, deer, crocodiles, elephants, orangutans, and even sedated tigers. A recent inspection revealed conditions indicating that the zoo could be more accurately described as a horror show for animals.
Croc pit
During the elephant show, I watched tourists clap and laugh as a dozen elephants “danced” and twirled their trunks to music. The reason that elephants perform such tricks is because the bullhook (a stick with a metal hook on the end) is gouged into the animals’ sensitive skin if they rebel—an act that shouldn’t be applauded.
Ellie Bullhook
The elephants are also forced to prance around holding each other’s tails, walk on tight ropes, step over people, throw darts, hula hoop, and play basketball. Performing elephants endure the appalling “breaking” process, called  phajaan. When they are babies, they are dragged from their mothers, kicking and screaming, and then they are immobilized, beaten mercilessly, and gouged with nails for days at a time. These ritualized “training” sessions leave the elephants badly injured, bloodied, traumatized, or even dead.
Lone tigerMost tigers live out their life sentence in prison-like cages that are 2-meters-by-3-meters, leaving these majestic and powerful creatures without any space to move and run. They are forced to perform tricks and behave in ways that are unnatural to them, such as standing on their hind legs, perching on stools, balancing on bridges, and jumping through rings of fire. I watched as one tiger was chased by a trainer wielding a stick after he refused to jump through burning hoops.

Thailand also seems to have a booming exotic pet trade. A multitude of species including, loris, tigers, elephants, birds, snakes and many more are trapped, farmed, exploited and sold to illegal pet trades worldwide.

Animal slaughter for festival and everyday meat supply is inconsiderate of the animals sentiency not to mention highly unhygienic.

Thailand get your act together and implement a minimum standard of animal welfare legislation!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Animal Welfare roadtrip

It is with great joy that today I publicly announce my plan to base my worldly travels on research for this blog and other future endeavours relating to the welfare of all creatures, great & small.

Rather than walk the very beaten paths to popular holiday destinations and sit on beaches sipping cocktails or visiting theme parks, I have decided to dedicate my spare time to living a life less ordinary. To get off the beaten track and delve into the culture of a region. Research how and more importantly why even some of the most religious of cultures differentiate between the way they engage with their fellow man, and the way they engage with non-human living beings.

Im anticipating my journey to start in the coming weeks with a trip to south-east Asia (predominantly Thailand initially). I envisage that following trips will involve the Middle East region and Gulf States (the apparent "mothership" of the exotic animal trade) and onward to the sub-continent of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka etcetera. Ultimately I would love to one day make it to Africa also.

While in these countries I hope to investigate for myself the current standard of animal law (i.e. specific to the capture, trade and breeding legislation), animal welfare (i.e. street animals, animal health, food production slaughter standards & the treatment of "beasts of burden") & the quality of the countries zoos and sanctuaries.

I hope I can find balance in all regions between the negatives and positives (this is my holiday time and life savings after all!) and I hope you dear readers can join me on my journey and find motivation from my blog to join the fight for better standards for animals worldwide.

Watch this space......