It’s been reopened and it’s as appalling as ever, with cramped conditions accompanied by rampant animal abuse.
Cubs separated from their parents for the amusement of the local children, abused lionesses, animals in tiny cages: a Gaza Strip zoo which has kept animals in distress for years has reopened only a few months after it was closed following an international campaign.
The Rafah Zoo in the southern Gaza Strip was known for its emaciated animals and cramped cages, with the owners saying they struggled to find enough money to feed them.
In April, international animal rights charity Four Paws took all the animals to sanctuaries, receiving a pledge the zoo would close forever. But last month it reopened with two lions and three new cubs, penned in cages only a few square metres in size.
Critics say the owners want to bully Four Paws or other animal welfare organizations into giving them thousands of dollars to free the animals into their care. Four Paws paid the zoo’s owners more than $50,000 in the year before its closure for medical treatments, food and caretakers.
The zoo’s owner insists the reopening is solely for the enjoyment of local residents.
When AFP visited the zoo recently, the badly stuffed corpse of a lion was displayed near the entrance. An ostrich in a three-metre-square pen pecked endlessly at the cage’s bars, while two monkeys sat chewing on litter.
At the far end the lion and lioness were kept in separate cages, each only a few square metres.
The owners were seeking to remove the cubs from their mother to play with visiting children. To do so they hit the lioness with sticks and banged on the cage to confuse her, with staff later taunting her when the cubs had been taken out.
“A lion needs 1,000 square metres to play in. Here they have seven square metres,” Mohammed Aweda, a prominent animal enthusiast in Gaza, told AFP. “The zoo won’t survive during the winter, because they are lacking in daily goods which cost a lot. For you or I or anyone who owns a zoo (in Gaza), the economy is very tough.”
Amid international outcry over conditions at the zoo, last year Four Paws reached an agreement with the owners.
In April nearly 50 animals, including lions, monkeys, peacocks and porcupines, were taken out of Gaza through Israeli territory to sanctuaries in Jordan and elsewhere.
The NGO said in a statement it explicitly does not pay for animals but provided funding for “costs for medical treatments, food and caretakers so that the over 40 animals were strong and healthy enough for the rescue and transfer.”
In total the amount paid over a year was $55,000, the NGO said. Four Paws said the zoo’s owner promised not to reopen. Critics suspect the owners of seeking to bully Four Paws into paying again.
The newly reopened zoo’s manager Ashraf Jumaa, from the same family that owned the old one, said they brought the new lions through tunnels from Egypt.
However others suggested they were bought from another animal centre in northern Gaza.
He denied they wanted to blackmail Four Paws. “The first goal is entertainment, not trade. The main reason we reopened the zoo was people in the area that supported us,” he said.
It makes sense patrons would find it entertaining. They learn animal abuse is entertainment from a very young age.
I keenly await PETA’s condemnation.