The Suspicious Death of Janet Johnson
A little over a year ago, at the end of February 2020, Anne Johnson — known to us; her friends, acquaintances, and fellow animal welfare activists in Egypt as “Janet Johnson” — was found dead under suspicious circumstances. Janet ran a unique, largely outdoor/partly indoor animal sanctuary on the outskirts of the small, sunny, seaside town of Dahab, in South Sinai, Egypt. The land she ran that sanctuary on was known to local Bedouins as “Wadi Kalb” or “Wadi Klab”, meaning dog-valley, in Arabic. She herself called the sanctuary Janet’s Wadi. As the locals’ naming suggests, dogs were her primary charges, but her rescues included cats, Equidae, and other animals. The land she ran that sanctuary on, was also a target for investors; her valley having a prime view of the red sea.
I know this, because Janet and I were friends. In a different sense of the word. I met Janet through another prominent animal welfare activist in Egypt. Dina Zulfikar. I often like to visit Dahab, the primary seat of the late Janet’s animal welfare activities. I consider Dahab a second home to me since 2007 or 2008. Dina, upon learning of my travels to Dahab, recommended that I try volunteering to help Janet, and gave me her number.
I never got the chance to volunteer at Janet’s Wadi. I spoke to her once on the telephone in 2010, but she was outside Dahab at the time on animal rescue business. Running a large animal sanctuary in a very remote location sometimes means you need to travel with animals who found adopters, or take occasional long trips to secure equipment or supplies. I first became properly acquainted with Janet in 2013 or 2014. In 2015 she assisted me with the rescue of an orphaned kitten and I acted as a flight parent for some of her animals during one of my trips back to North America. We chatted on Facebook sometimes.
Janet, a UK national, had spent most of her money caring for the animals in her sanctuary in Egypt, including an inheritance from her mother. She was, until her death in 2020, the most prominent animal rescuer in South Sinai. More than that. Animal rescue in South Sinai was Janet Johnson. There were no active rescue organisations in the area. No other shelters or sanctuaries. Cooperation with animal rescue organisations in Cairo happened sometimes, but distance and scarce resources ensured it was minimal.
So you can imagine that hearing of her death came as quite a shock to me. We hadn’t chatted in a while, but I had been following her activity. My shock was furthered by several sources who attempted to portray her rescue dogs as her cause of death. It felt suspicious to me. Then I remembered a story she had related in 2018. She had been attacked and suffered a brutal beating in relation to her animal rescue activities, but she was less than expansive about the specific reasons. Separately, she had also told me that she often faced challenges with her rental agreement of the valley, the land being a target for investors.
Of course, the slanted reporting attempting to frame her dogs as the cause of death was enough to make me suspicious. I do not remember her personally telling me that her beating in 2018 was over the land, but putting two and two together… It made me wonder. It should have made other people wonder too. But few of that wonder, if any of it, showed in the local, or even international reporting of the incident. In fact, international media and the British embassy seemed content to take the local reporting line. The justification they gave was that she was found dead in the valley with bite marks on her.
The fact that she was found with some of her dogs guarding her dead body at a distance isn’t mentioned. The reasoning that some of her dogs may have attempted to drag her dead or unconscious body to safety never occurred to anyone. And of course, because no one mentioned the conflict over the land she was renting, the possibility that specialised attack dogs were released nearby her in the valley specifically to kill her was not even considered.
I was contacted by a local reporter to give a written interview about Janet, in the Arabic language. The man did his best to report anything I told him honestly, but ultimately, the paper would not let him publish it without making “changes” to it, as he informed me over a year later. Which he refused to do. Naturally, this makes me even more suspicious of foul play and powerful investors involved.
Now I’m not saying she was necessarily killed. She was over sixty, mostly by herself doing some pretty strenuous outdoor work, in a place where hot weather can become rather extreme. And I don’t know anything about her medical history. A collapse from sunstroke, or anything else, is entirely feasible. Having collapsed, it’s possible she was approached by carrion seeking animals before her valley’s dogs chased the strangers away. Then again, it is possible she was killed for the land. It is possible that one or more of the investors targeting the land were in league with someone who released trained attack dogs to specifically kill her.
However, no news organisation has, to date, succeeded in reporting a satisfactory cause of death for Janet Johnson. Whether this is because the final Egyptian ME report was released after the reporters had lost interest, or because the Egyptian ME office has simply not released (or fully concluded) a definite cause of death, I do not know. Some cases remain on a probable cause of death. What I do know is that Janet Johnson, South Sinai’s premier animal activist and rescuer was found dead in suspicious circumstances. The reporting surrounding her death was severely slanted and here we are, over a year later. No real progress.
More about Janet:
Marginal Integrity Note:
Honesty compels me to mention that the above mentioned activist who introduced me to Janet is distantly related to me, although neither of us knew that when I first got involved with her animal welfare efforts many years ago. In fact, she only ever found out when she saw me at a family wake.