Go wild at World Animal Day in Beirut, Lebanon events

Date: Friday, October 10, 2014
By: Susan Wilson
Source: The Daily Star


BEIRUT: Over the space of ten days this year, Animals Lebanon rescued two baby hyenas, two tigers, a lion, the Beirut river crocodile, a family of baboons, and the last chimpanzee in Lebanon. Certainly no one can accuse the NGO, founded in 2008, of being lax in their mission to improve the welfare of animals.
On Saturday the organization is hosting Lebanon’s own World Animal Day event, kicking off at 4 p.m. in Ajami Square at the Beirut Souks. World Animal Day is officially celebrated on Oct. 4, but events take place worldwide in the surrounding weeks. With the World Wildlife Fund announcing last month that the world lost 52% of its vertebrate species between 1970 and 2010, preserving wildlife could hardly be a more important issue, and the NGO is anticipating a larger crowd than last year.
“Last year’s event was more successful than we predicted, and we are sure this year’s event will be better than last year. Hundreds of people came out and we were nearly overwhelmed trying to interact with everyone and make sure they had a great afternoon and came away with a renewed appreciation and respect for animals,” Animals Lebanon Director Jason Miertold The Daily Star.
The event Saturday is open to all members of the public (and their dogs) to pass by and will inaugurate the group’s Animal Welfare Wall, with a custom made photo booth for guests to take a picture of themselves with their pets. It will be launched with a speech by board member Maya Nassar, and special guests will include Radio One host Gavin Ford.
Raising awareness and support for animal welfare was never going to be an easy task in a country that genuinely suffers from far more pressing needs.
“There will always be other priorities for the government, issues that are understandably more pressing than animal welfare, and this slows down some of our work,” Mier said.
Nonetheless the NGO has achieved some notable successes. One that stands out to Mier is the rescue of Charlie the Chimpanzee.
“They [rescued animals] are all special but Charlie the Chimpanzee stands out as this was an eight year struggle to free him, and the first time the court system was successfully used to rescue an animal,” he said.
Charlie was smuggled into Lebanon back in 2005 and spent eight miserable years first in a pet store and then in a zoo totally isolated. It took years of campaigning before Animals Lebanon, with the help of Judge Antoine Tohme, was finally able to arrange for him to be taken to a sanctuary in Africa and reunited with his own species.
Charlie was the last chimpanzee smuggled into Lebanon and the last to be rescued, the NGO said, and their successful lobbying to get Lebanon to join the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) should ensure he remains so.
Animals Lebanon has also worked closely with the Ministry of Agriculture to draft a national law for the protection and welfare of animals.
“This is a comprehensive law that will help Lebanon meet its obligations under international conventions and return the country to its position as a regional leader in animal welfare,” Miers said.
While the group works closely with the government it has never requested any funding from it. The vast majority of its work is funded by donors in Lebanon.
“Our work is made possible through corporate sponsors, gala events, and hundreds of caring people. When you see how some of these animals are suffering, people want to help,” Miers said.
Capitalizing on this compassion is key to expanding the awareness of animal rights in Lebanon.
“We are in many ways starting from scratch, in the sense that the awareness of animal welfare issues is very low, and regulations are virtually nonexistent,” Meirs explained.
“Our ultimate goal is seeing a change in the way people think about and treat animals. We don't say we are changing our culture as we do not believe abusing animals is part of our culture. With all the difficulties of day-to-day life we know how hard it is for people to then extend compassion to animals, but every day more and more people are doing just that.”
Animals Lebanon’s World Animal Day event begins at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 11 at Ajami Square in the Beirut Souks.

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