Giza Plateau Bans Camels, Horses

By Eileen Alt Powell
Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, September 16, 1998; 8:46 a.m. EDT

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) -- The days of tourists having their pictures taken atop camels and horses beside the Great Pyramids are numbered: Antiquities authorities are banning the beasts from the Giza plateau.

As the number of animals has increased, so have complaints about harassment by those overly eager to rent their mounts -- and about camel droppings all over the footpaths.

``Visitors never have an opportunity to look at the pyramids alone, without distraction,'' said Zahi Hawass, the government archaeologist in charge of the pyramids. ``But more important is that we have to stop the pollution of the site.''

To this end, Egypt has built new stables in a valley a mile south of the pyramids, and Hawass said the camels and riding horses will be moved there by the end of October.

They'll be allowed to take tourists on rides in the desert and take photos for the tourists' scrapbooks. ``But the pyramids will be a distant backdrop,'' Hawass said.

The shift is part of a long-term program to preserve the 4,500-year-old pyramids at Giza on Cairo's outskirts while maintaining access to thousands of visitors a day.

Just how many animals are out there is unclear. Some 445 camels and horses are licensed to work at the pyramids. Tourist police say, however, that up to 1,500 others show up, especially on Egyptian holidays.

Despite what tourists are told, camels and horses were not known in Egypt when the pharaohs Cheops, Chephren and Mycerinus built their burial pyramids at Giza. The horse arrived about 1,200 years later, and was put to use pulling royal chariots. Camels, native to the Arabian peninsula, started showing up around the first century B.C.

These days, camels and horses, generally decked out in red saddle blankets with multicolored pompons on their halters, are a colorful attraction for some, a nuisance to others.

Tourists walking among the pyramids are repeatedly approached by competing owners and asked if they want a ride. Quarrels over prices are so frequent that it's a standing joke at Giza that it costs 5 pounds ($1.50) to get on a camel and 50 pounds ($14.70) to get off.

Even worse, it costs the government $30,000 a year to clean up the horse and camel droppings, Hawass said.

The Egyptians who earn their livings renting out camels and horses are not pleased about the move, despite assurances from the government that there will be big parking and picnic areas for visitors near the new stable grounds.

Mohammed Farag, who has spent 35 of his 50 years leading tourists around the pyramids on his camels, argues that ``we're not the ones causing pollution -- it's the cars and buses that pollute.''

He supports his mother, wife and seven children with earnings from his camel, which he calls Kentucky Fried Chicken, and worries that his income will drop significantly.

``I don't think it is good for the tourists, and it certainly won't be good for me,'' Farag said.

Elhamy el-Zayat, chairman of Emeco Travel, the largest tourist agency in Egypt, said a priority should be given to preserving the ancient monuments -- and satisfying foreign visitors.

``There have been animals there for thousands of years,'' el-Zayat said. ``I'm not sure if they pose a serious risk for the environment.''

He added: ``But the cars and buses, with all that exhaust and the vibrations. Yes, they should definitely go after these -- reduce them or ban them.''

He may not have long to wait.

Hawass says within a year, Egypt hopes to consign tour buses and private cars to a ring road around the Giza plateau and to outlying parking lots. Tourists will walk or ride special, electric-powered vehicles among the monuments.

Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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