efe-epaBy Esther Alaejos Birqash, Egypt

Traders at Egypt’s largest camel market outside Cairo continued to sell cattle at auction every Friday, despite recent reports of animal cruelty.

Animal rights organization PETA and the Society for the Protection of Animal Rights in Egypt have drawn attention to how camels are treated in Birqash, a small village located 50 km northwest of the capital.

SPARE founder Amina Abaza told Efe that three merchants were detained after the organization filed a complaint, noting more arrests were expected to take place now that the situation had been flagged to Egyptian authorities.

However, hundreds of camels were still being beaten to move them from one place to another and forced onto vehicles to transport them with one leg tied up to prevent them from escaping.

Abdel Wahab al-Wagih, a merchant from southern Egypt who has been in the business since he was a child, denied that the three arrests had occurred and said the camels were not mistreated.

“We do not hit camels here. They are very dear to us,” he said.

The prices of the camels auctioned off were between 12,000-16,000 Egyptian pounds ($700-1000).

Camel herders, some of whom are young, guide the animals with sticks and shouts, but this seems normal when it comes to controlling hundreds of cattle that mostly end up at the slaughterhouse.

Mohamed Metwally, another merchant who imports camels from Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia, said that the government came to Birqash but “saw that nothing was happening”.

“The media exaggerated,” Metwally said, referring to animal abuse allegations that were accompanied by photos showing wounded animals.

Mohamed Abdel Aal al-Sherif said when he saw some foreigners he made hand gestures, invited them to drink tea and showed that his camels are receiving a “five-star” treatment.

“These arrested people were stupid, they hit the camels in front of the cameras, and then they came and took them away,” he added and said that this has been a family business over the past five centuries.

He also downplayed the fact that authorities have set up surveillance cameras to monitor any animal abuse.

Two of the cameras are set up at the main entrance of the Birqash market.

The measures, announced by the authorities over the past few weeks in the wake of the animal rights activists’ outcry, do not seem to have sorted out the situation in Birqash, where camel herders have unquestionably applied the same method.

Abaza said that she returned to the market in October for the first time and witnessed that “they have not stopped hitting the camels.”

She said she tried to intervene but could not do anything, so she decided to call the authorities. EFE-EPA

ea-fc/sm-ta/rb