The Animals

Being part 9 of our trip to Egypt series. Part 8 here.

Oh Egypt and its animals!

In Cairo, our first stop was the Agricultural Museum, which is full of dead animals, of both the taxidermied and mummified varieties. The Ancient Egyptians mummified everything – crocodiles, cats, cows…and we saw one or more of each here! We had hoped to see the only bull that was recovered from the Serapeum (see below), but we didn’t find it and the staff didn’t have much English.

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The park inside the museum / Department of Agriculture grounds has a lot of trees, grass, a formal garden, and fountains. All of these things attract birds, of course, and we saw our first Hoopoe here, which was pretty exciting. Sure it’s a common bird in Egypt, but I’d never seen one before!

On the walk over to the museum from our hotel, we met some street cats – they are everywhere in Cairo. When we were leaving the museum compound, we met these street dogs, who were sleeping in formation.

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We asked our Cairo friend Bassem about pets in Egypt – people do keep cats and dogs, but more of them live out on the streets. He took us to a party where there was a pet cat. He said the street dogs weren’t particularly dangerous and like the street cats, had their human friends and enemies.

At Saqqara we visited the Serapeum, the tomb of the Apis Bulls. It’s a wonderful monument to the godly beasts, sons of Hathor. One of the best ancient sites on our trip to see ancient sites.

We took the train from Cairo to Luxor, along the fertile strip of Nile banks. We went through cities and towns, and saw many animals along the way. At the outskirts of Asyut, there was a wall about 15 feet from the tracks, and someone had turned this narrow strip of land into a farm – sheep, goats, horses, cows, a donkey, with clean hay down to make it more homey (barn-y?). We passed dozens of people working the fields by hand, using tools exactly like the ancient ones we had seen at the Agricultural Museum, with their donkey carts parked at the edge of the field, the donkeys always having a snack as they waited.

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photo by Slava

We arrived Luxor and more animals were all around. Horse carts for tourists, donkey carts on the road, many street dogs hanging out in front of our hotel, camels at the farmhouse next door, birds in the fields getting chased off by a farmer who snapped a whip every now and then to startle them into flight.

I brought a bird identification book that came in pretty handy. My two faves were the Hoopoe and the Bee Eater, an iridescent green character who we often saw sitting on the same wire in the hotel driveway. I also saw one or two Little Owls, who were very cute, both chilling at temples. House Sparrows, who entertain my cat at the feeder outside at home, were our constant companions.

For those of you who have never been anywhere, I will tell you, every monument in this world in reality belongs to the pigeons. Egypt is no exception.

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Liz and pigeons at the Mortuary Temple of Rameses III at Medinet Habu, photo by Slava

We didn’t see any camels doing any work apart from carrying tourists around, but I think they are sometimes used for other things. Camel meat is one thing, and their hair is used in textiles. They have really cool feet, by the way. Klaus, the hotel manager at Luxor, went to a camel market on our last day, in search of more white camels to join the two Slava & I rode, but he told Slava there were only about 10 white ones to be had among the thousands at the market, and none were the right fit for him. He may have to (horrors!) get some brown camels! He has a good view of the camels, though, and doesn’t allow them to be beaten, as they often are elsewhere. His camel guides are gentle with the animals & they are in good health.

Speaking of camels, when we were on our camel ride, our guide pointed out a small crocodile on the bank of a canal. He threw a rock at it against my protests to make it move – he didn’t hit the animal, and it did move. We heard they were kind of rare along the Nile in Egypt, but I guess they’re making a comeback!

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We didn’t encounter this horrific beast except at Mohamed’s Restaurant.

Animals of all sorts are represented in the carvings and paintings of the ancient Egyptians. Many gods, of course, share human and animal forms – cats, lions, hippopotamuses, vultures, snakes,etc..

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a fine carving at Karnak

In the Nile Valley, where irrigated land has rich, black soil, and the non-irrigated land is barren as stone, farm animals are everywhere. We saw donkey carts more often than tractors.

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roadside water buffalo photo by Slava

One of the main crops, amidst the sugar cane and the wheat, is clover, grown for livestock consumption.

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Sheep and goats coming home at dusk at Qurna. Many animals and birds share homes with people.

 

Klaus told us the street dogs are not well loved by most of the locals, but that they protect people and animals from the wolves who come down from the hills at night. Before the village of Qurna was largely demolished, the wolves didn’t threaten the town, but now the barrier of homes is gone and they edge ever closer. The dogs we met didn’t threaten us, although there was a lot of nighttime barking. One evening I found a puppy that lived next door hanging out in the driveway with other dogs. I tried to send it back home, but who knows. The hotel dog seemed pretty into protecting it, so I think it was fine but….

We made friends with this little cat at the hotel & wanted to take it home with us. Slava named it Cleopatra, of course.

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