In recent years, the environmental office has been regularly asked by visitors and activists to take measures to improve the state of the zoo at the Lion Village, located an hour and a half from Cairo, at Km 59 of the Cairo-Alexandria desert road. After two inspections over the past month by the environmental office, the license should be renewed shortly even though the zoo’s state is far from being ideal.
The first thing customers notice when they step into the zoo is a big cage in which a lion and a lioness are lying down. Although the zoo is located in the middle of the desert and experiences scorching heat in this season, the lions’ cage is obviously devoid of a water trough, and none can be spotted anywhere nearby.
When justifying himself, Ahmed al-Timsah, the owner and captain of the Lion Village, is full of contradictions. At one point he says that “every now and then, a worker puts water in a bucket and then removes it because otherwise the lions spill it”, but later asserts that there is a trough in a corner of a cage attached to the first one, which provides unlimited access to water all day. Black, filthy water fills its bottom.
When night comes, the lions retreat into inside compartments, where they cannot reach the water trough, which according to Timsah is fine, as “they are not thirsty at night anyway.”
As the zoo tour starts, one might notice how low the ostriches’ fence is, enough to let them approach and bite you.
“Ostriches, just like camels and dogs, are all predators but they’re not dangerous,” explains Timsah. Laughing out loud, he exclaims “Bite? Ostriches don’t bite!" but does not say what they do with their famous, harmful nozzle move that people fear so much.
Next stop: the hyena’s cage. One on each side, they walk back and forth. They do not stop. They do not pay attention to each other or the visitors. Timsah comments that “they’re just playing because it’s breeding period." But hyenas do not usually walk back and forth when breeding – on the contrary they tend to approach and court each other.
Around the corner, trash covers the animals’ cages. A monkey is playing, chewing a plastic bag as if it were a branch, while his neighbor has to deal with three plastic bags and some burger packaging on the ground of its cage. A bit further along, plastic cups and more trash are stashed in the cavity of a tree in the dogs' area. This tree is out of reach for customers, and Timsah says that “a little kid or a worker” must have put the trash there: “the place is usually very clean, it’s just not today.” He apologizes and adds, “Egyptian people are very bad, as well as the people who work here.”
Talking about misbehaving, some might have fun opening the cage door as there is no lock. "Bad" people who enjoy themselves by throwing trash in cages – or climbing a fence to hide a cup in the dogs’ area – might find it hilarious to free rabbits, dogs or other mammals.
The tour reaches the eastern side of the village and roars become louder as the tiny cages in which breeding lions lie becomes visible. The narrow cages don’t enable stretching in width, only in length. In the tiniest, two lion cubs sit next to each other, unable to move far from each other. Timsah justifies this by saying, “They were small when we got the cages.”
Despite the state of the zoo, Abdelwahab Khaddam, who inspected it on the behalf of the Wildlife Department of Giza Zoo last June, insists “it’s a very good place, and as long as the animals look happy and the standards are respected, the Lion Village can have a license.” Later mentioning the public complaints about it, Khaddam comes back on his comment : “it’s not that bad but it’s not very great.”
The Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) came on 13 July to renew Timsah’s yearly license, which expired at least five months ago. He requested a new one in October 2010, but no one from the environmental office showed up before June 2011.
According to the EEAA report and Timsah, their recommendations deal with the trash, the lion’s sleeping area, and the care given to water treatment, as most of the troughs were filled with dark and dirty water. Nothing else. They promised him that he would get a license within four days, while he promised that those changes would be made within seven days. In other words, he will be granted his license before starting any improvement work.