Why Egypt Needs a Monkey Sanctuary

Why Egypt Needs a Monkey Sanctuary

Ziko before his rescue.

A few months ago, after moving to Egypt, I came across a pet shop located on a busy Cairo street that had a full-sized vervet monkey in a tiny cage. I went over to check on him, and he immediately grabbed my jacket with his human-like hands to rub his belly.

He began flipping in the cage, like a hamster on a hamster wheel, but with no way to escape. Watching him trapped inside, I was instantly heartbroken. After speaking to the owner, I learned that he was not for sale; he had kept the monkey, Ziko, for over seven years as a pet.

While the pet shop owner loves him and feeds him, Ziko is still a wild mammal that belongs in the wild. I spent hours researching and contacting locals about what to do to free him with little luck.

After learning that primates are not allowed to be exported out of Egypt, my goal was to convince the owner to put him in a larger shelter that would at least allow him to climb trees and be more comfortable. One very kind-hearted Egyptian woman connected me to the Animal Protection Foundation, which currently serves over 1,000 dogs and cats in Cairo. They always wanted to create a monkey sanctuary in Egypt and quickly offered the space to build a larger shelter for him and to take care of him.

Wild animal trade is banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. While Egypt’s Minister of Environment is working to ban illegal trade of wildlife, including vervet monkeys, wild animals are still easily found at pet shops, major markets, and in homes of everyday Egyptians as pets.

Ziko in his cage before his rescue. Credit: Colette Ghunim

After days of research and calls with organizations in South Africa that rescue vervet monkeys, the same place where Ziko originated, we presented an offer to the pet shop owner.

Hours later, he came to the realization that keeping his monkey in such a small space was wrong ethically and morally, even in his own religion. He agreed that Ziko should have more space and was willing to free him. We left in awe; we doubted our ability to change someone’s perspective. This pet shop owner could now serve as an example for others to treat the animals under their care more humanely.

We are now raising $2500 to build a 10×5 meter shelter for Ziko on the grounds of the Animal Protection Foundation in Cairo. These funds will pay for the construction workers, building materials and trees and tires that will be put inside for Ziko to play. After Ziko, the goal is to rescue one more vervet monkey, seeing as vervet monkeys usually stay in tribes together.

This is only the start though: we aim to rescue more monkeys stuck at pet shops that are being sold at large markets across Egypt illegally. The moral status of a country can easily be measured by the treatment of its animals. Creating a monkey sanctuary is the first step to advocating for them to be banned from traveling from other parts of Africa. As a larger number of monkeys are rescued from pet shops and markets and put in these sanctuaries, our aim is to bring awareness through press, social media pages, and to the Minister of Environment to enforce officials to ban entry into the country upon arrival.

Egyptians whose lives revolve around rescuing animals from the streets are often told: “They’re just animals; we have many bigger problems in Egypt to worry about, such as orphaned children and disabled individuals.”

While the plights of both are undoubtedly vital causes, that does not discount the importance of the welfare of animals, who deserve an equal level of care and attention to humans. Animals are also sentient creatures. They also feel pain, they also have emotions, a memory, and, specifically for monkeys, are extremely intelligent beings. Just because they can’t speak or communicate like humans, doesn’t mean they don’t suffer the same way humans do. Vervet monkeys just like Ziko have intelligence levels of a three-year-old. In Egypt, there are entire markets with hundreds of these monkeys living in dire conditions.

We hope that this sanctuary will bring awareness to the plight of monkeys that are living in unfit conditions across Egypt, inspiring more organizations to learn how to rescue these intelligent, loving creatures.

To support the building of Ziko’s shelter – whether through a donation or by sharing the campaign – click here.

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As a documentary filmmaker and nonprofit co-founder, Colette Ghunim’s passion lies at the cross section of social impact and visual storytelling. Her first documentary, The People’s Girls, received over 2 million views and Best Short Documentary at the Arab Film Festival for its bold spotlight on street harassment in Egypt. She is directing Traces of Home, her first feature-length film documenting her journey back to Mexico and Palestine to locate her parents' original homes, which they were forced to leave decades ago. Colette's work has been highlighted on international outlets such as Huffington Post, Al Jazeera, Univision, and TEDx. She is also the co-founder of Mezcla Media Collective, a nonprofit organization that lifts up 600 women and non-binary filmmakers of color.

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