The Giza zoo was just as depressing as I had expected it to be. Based on the uncaring way the average Egyptian treats street cats and dogs here—and the lack of pets in most Egyptian homes—I didn't hold out much hope for my trip to the city zoo last week, and disappoint the zoo did not.
Cairo is, in fact, located in Africa, so we're a bit closer to the source of all the cool game that is part and parcel of the zoo experience in the United States: hippos, tigers, and sweet African antelope, to name a few. The Giza zoo had all of the above with a splash of urban fauna, like the wild street cats darting in and out of enclosures, or the German shepherd exhibit for which it appeared that random dogs had been plucked off the street and placed in cages.
Despite its exotic pull, though, the zoo was pretty sad. Great black bears continuously circled cages not much larger than a couple rooms in my apartment, striving to break free; smoking zoo workers sat by enclosures with lettuce and sticks in hand, encouraging little kids to feed the animals in exchange for some bakshish (a tip) from their parents; and kids stuck their hands through cages, trying to pet the animals.
(If you can't see the video, click here.)
For a couple of the only foreign tourists in the entire place, it was almost more fascinating observing the Egyptian zoo-goers in their natural habitat than checking out the animals. Picture enormous families whipping out blankets, hookahs, full meals, and more, setting up camp anywhere they could find free space and some shade. Kids ran crazily from exhibit to exhibit, there was face painting at every turn, and women in niqabs dodged soccer balls flying through the air.
And I got to hold a baby lion cub! For only $3.50, you can take photos with a baby lion and have a cool story for friends. Or so we thought. The lion cubs were actually, as we should have expected, pretty malnourished looking and probably drugged so they wouldn't munch on our hands. Afterward, my friend Tyler and I walked away trying to justify to ourselves that what we had just done was OK. "We had to do it. I feel dirty... but we had to do it! We won't tell anyone or put the pictures online, though." It was like we had just killed someone and were trying to justify the murder to ourselves.
I kind of feel the same way post-zoo. I had to do it, but feel a little dirty afterward. I guess that feeling of disgust is included in the ticket price.
I saw literally every one of these rules repeatedly broken, save for the ban on fishing—which should have probably gone without saying anyway AT A ZOO. For example: