Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

The Akef Egyptian Circus and Animal Trafficking

Posted: 2 June 2005


In December 1993, the CITES Secretariat were informed that the previous year, Akef’s Egyptian Circus had gone from Egypt to Kenya with two performing chimpanzees and other Appendix I listed animals without presenting any CITES documents. The Kenyan Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals urged the authorities to confiscate the animals on welfare grounds. The animals were not confiscated and the circus moved to the United Republic of Tanzania where reportedly it was not allowed to perform.

The circus then appeared in Uganda, where the owner illegally purchased four baby chimpanzees. In November 1993, the Ugandan Wildlife Department confiscated a chimp called Sugar who had been suffering from pneumonia. She was taken to Entebbe Zoo where she received intensive care and survived. The remaining chimps, Samson, Honey and Sweet, were confiscated later that year. The circus was instructed not to leave the country, pending a legal case, but vanished, and reappeared in Kenya.

In March 1994, the CITES Secretariat were informed that that the circus had acquired a further three chimpanzees from a source in Uganda. The Secretariat recommended to the Kenyan authorities that the chimps and a tiger should be confiscated unless Akef produced the relevant documentation. However, any action was impeded by diplomatic protocol.


On May 13th, 1994, the circus clandestinely left Kenya, travelling through Tanzania to Zambia, which it entered without complying with Zambian import procedures or the provisions of CITES.

CITES advised the National Parks and Wildlife Service of Zambia that the Akef Egyptian Circus was travelling with a tiger, chimps and lions, none of which had CITES permits. Akef did not have any documents verifying the legal status of the animals, but as before requested the intervention of the Egyptian Embassy. The Egyptian Ambassador met with the Zambian Minister of Tourism who insisted that the circus comply with Zambia’s national legislation and CITES.

On 23rd June, the Egyptian authorities informed the CITES Secretariat that it had requested the Directorate of the National Circus of the Ministry of Culture to prohibit this circus from travelling abroad.

The repeated failure to have the correct permits and paperwork and that the circus arrives in a country with certain animals and leaves with different ones has led to the allegation that it is little more than a front for illegal animal trading.

On 26th June, 1994, the Egyptian authorities confirmed to those in Zambia that the circus owned the following CITES listed animals: six lions, four Bengal tigers and specimens of python. This was verified by the Veterinary Quarantine Department of Egypt. However, as the circus toured Africa, the menagerie regularly changed. Chimpanzees were clearly going through the circus and Akef had attempted to obtain permits to import African elephants into Uganda and to trap wild elephants there. Akef applied to import seven lions and nine African Grey parrots into Zambia. He had left Egypt with six lions and no parrots.

Not surprisingly, when the Zambian authorities inspected the circus, the number of animals Akef said he was importing did not correspond to what was present. On 11th July, 1994, the Zambian authorities seized two chimps and one African grey parrot.

In May 1995, a CITES permit was granted for four tigers and four pythons to enter Zimbabwe with the circus. However no export/import permits were issued and no certificate was produced showing the animals’ origin. Upon investigation by Harare SPCA only three pythons were found, two of which were in very poor condition.

S.K. Hargreaves, Director of Veterinary Services, for the Department of Veterinary Services, Ministry of Lands, Agriculture and Water Development noted: “I have inspected the conditions under which the lions and tigers are housed by the Akef Egyptian Circus and consider that this is in gross contravention of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. These animals are confined in very small cages with inadequate lighting and very restricted space for exercise. In my opinion this restricted confinement is an act of cruelty to these animals.” The circus was also condemned in a public statement issued by the Council of Veterinary Surgeons of Zimbabwe.

Akef’s Egyptian Circus departed Zimbabwe in November 1995 with four tigers, six lions, four horses, ten dogs and one python. Only two horses arrived in Mozambique, one stallion, one pregnant mare. A foal was born to the mare in February 1996 whilst in Maputo.

In November 1995 a contract was signed for the circus to perform in Maputo for one month only.

In January 1996, Akef departed Maputo for Egypt, reportedly to arrange passage for staff and animals to Egypt. The animals were left behind with nine staff members.

Akef did not return and steadily money ran out out to feed the animals or workers that had been left behind. By June, the animals were starving - one tiger, Raj, died of chronic pneumonia and kidney failure. In August desperate pleas for help reached the London offices of Animal Defenders International.

At the end of August 1996, an Animal Defenders International Rescue Team went to Mozambique and secured a CITES confiscation order from the Ministry of Agriculture for three tigers, six lions, and an African Python. Five dogs and three horses were also seized on welfare grounds. These were all of the animals with the circus. These animals were handed into the care of Animal Defenders International who have subsequently found them new homes.

If you have any information about the Akef Egyptian Circus, please contact Animal Defenders International.

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