In Gaza Strip, rescuers from Four Paws save long-suffering animals from a zoo made uninhabitable by war.
Rescuers were able to save 15 animals – the only ones that had survived a Gaza zoo’s uninhabitable condition due to a war and hostilities. The rescued ones included a Bengal tiger, the only one left in Gaza, five monkeys, a pair of porcupines, tortoises, and buzzards, a doe, and two other bird species.
The Khan Younis Zoo in Gaza was opened to the public in 2007. It spanned more than three acres and was adjacent to a park. People refer to it as “the world’s worst zoo” after a series of conflicts in the area.
The Israel-Gaza hostilities in 2014 which killed thousands of civilians affected park and zoo operations, among others. As food supply dwindled, hundreds of zoo animals died of starvation. For a time, surviving animals had to live in cages among rotting carcasses.
The director of Four Paws, Amir Khalil said that they have thought of saving the animals since September 2015, months after the zoo curtailed operations. But it was only in August 2016 that the rescue was finally realized with the cooperation of zoo owner, Abu Diab Oweida.
Oweida laments that the wars in Gaza destroyed communities and establishments in the Palestinian territory. As for his zoo animals, he had no choice but to donate the surviving ones to entities running animal sanctuaries elsewhere.
The mission to save the animals was a difficult one. Four Paws had to negotiate with the representatives of Jordan, Israel, Hamas, and Fatah. Moreover, the rescue happened amid counter attacks between warring forces in the Gaza.
Khalil’s commitment to save animals in dire situation was also evident during his 2011 mission in Libya. The year was marked with Libyan revolution and global military intervention. However, his 2011 experience was nothing compared to that in Gaza.
Right now there are four more zoos in the region but these will soon be closed. Alan Knight of International Animal Rescue praised Khalil and his team for his latest achievement. He expressed relief that finally, the terrible and uninhabitable Khan Younis zoo is finally closed. The animals are staying in new shelters, living in more stress-free and safe environs.
While Khalil is happy with how things worked out in Gaza, he remains wary for zoo animals that remain at risk and thus need to be saved too. He mentioned zoos in Middle East countries like Yemen, Sudan, Syria, and other regions experiencing internal conflict.
War is hell for people and animals as well. Animal welfare organizations hope that the zoo animal rescuers’ latest mission in Gaza will serve as an inspiration for other organizations to follow suit.