Maltreated animals at a dilapidated zoo near the Gaza Strip in the city of Khan Younis were rescued in August and placed in animal sanctuaries.
International animal-welfare group Four Paws led the rescue and removed the remaining 15 animals to safety.
They included Laziz, a nine-year-old Bengal tiger that is—according to Four Paws, the Vienna-based animal-welfare nonprofit that led the rescue—the last tiger in Gaza. There were also five monkeys, an emu, a pelican, two buzzards, two porcupines, two tortoises, and a doe. The doe had lost her fawn to wounds shortly before the rescuers arrived.
If you are looking for someone to blame, blame the Jews and Israel, according to zoo owner and animal mistreater Abu Diab Oweida. Oweida made headlines earlier this year when the dead animals from his zoo were “taxidermied by the staff.” The reason for the mummification: “to prove to the whole world that even animals have been affected and [killed] by the Israeli occupation after the three [recent] wars in the Gaza Strip.”
Dr. Amir Khalil, director of emergency response at Four Paws, handled the rescue. “The idea to close [the zoo came in] April of last year,” said Khalil, an Egyptian-born veterinarian who lives in Austria. “It was a concept last September. It was a plan this April. It was a mission in August.”
In order to rescue the animals, Khalil needed to work with zoo owner Oweida and three of his sons.
“The Israeli occupation of Gaza,” says Oweida, “ended everything. They smashed and destroyed what [was] inside the Gaza Strip. So I decided to donate the animals to save what remained of [them], to live safely inside a nature reserve and in peace and security.”
But not before 50 animals of the original 65 died, apparently.
Finally, in mid-August, Khalil led a 14-person team to the zoo. The team departed from the Erez border crossing in southwest Israel. Shortly before they crossed the border, a rocket from Gaza landed in the Israeli city of Sderot. Khalil said he could see smoke from the Erez border crossing. As the rescuers headed to the zoo, the Israel Defense Forces launched 50 airstrikes at Gaza. Nevertheless, Khalil said the team felt “safe and secure.”
Four Paws had the difficult job of mediating between Israel, Jordan and Palestinian government entities and terror groups Hamas and Fatah to get the animals out. “In terms of the [mission], it went quite well,” team member Ioana Dungler says. “In terms of time, it was quite exhausting. On a [difficulty] scale of 1 to 10, it was an 8.”
Just as the team had arrived in Khan Younis, a baby deer, only a few weeks, old had died.
The transfer of the animals was a success. There are still four zoos that remain in the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian government intends to close them all.
Of all the animals at the zoo, Laziz the tiger had the longest journey. He was transferred to the Lionsrock Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa.
The Palestinian government, Hamas and Fatah have approached the group about creating an animal sanctuary in Gaza. There are only 12 veterinarians in Gaza, with four headed toward retirement shortly. Khalil is worried about other zoos in conflict zones, like Syria, Libya and Venezuela.