Animal welfare group Four Paws International has rescued 47 animals from a zoo in war-torn Gaza.
The war on the Gaza Strip has been raging on for several years now, with local zoos and many animals caught in the crossfire. The Rafah Zoo in particular has become known as a 'zoo of horrors' due to the nightmarish conditions in which the animals were being kept.?
In January of this year, four lion cubs froze to death at the Rafah zoo, due to extreme weather and complete negligence. Then a few weeks later a young lioness had her claws removed with garden shears, allegedly so that zoo visitors could play with her.
Several other animals have perished at the zoo because of a complete lack of veterinary care, some have even been stuffed and put on display.
This rescue mission had been delayed multiple times due to escalating violence and border closures in the Gaza region.
Despite knowing how difficult it would be going into a war zone, Four Paws assembled a team of veterinarians and wildlife experts to carry out the rescue.
It took months of preparation and several attempts before the animals could be safely evacuated.
"The intensive work of the last weeks has brought our team to its limits. To examine and load almost 50 animals in just a few days was a huge challenge," said Four Paws Veterinarian and Head of Mission Amir Khalil.
"Thanks to the cooperation of all authorities, it was possible for us to bring the animals safely out of Gaza. From Israel to Palestine and Jordan, it was impressive to see how these three nations worked together for the animals from Rafah."
Bringing animals to safety
In the end 47 animals were rescued including five lions, a hyena, several monkeys, wolves, porcupines, foxes, cats, dogs, emus, ostriches and several exotic birds. The animals were taken on a 300km (190-mile) journey across the border to wildlife sanctuaries in Jordan, where they can spend the rest of their lives in species-appropriate habitats.
The lions are being taken to the Four Paws big cat sanctuary in South Africa called Lionsrock, where they will live in a peaceful and natural environment.
?Four Paws has been active in Gaza since 2014 and has already evacuated and closed down two zoos in the region, the Al-Bisan zoo in 2014 and the Khan Younis zoo in 2016. All of the animals from the previous two zoos were safely transferred to Four Paws sanctuaries. With the successful rescue of the Rafah zoo animals there are now only two more zoos left in the Gaza Strip. Four Paws International has vowed to continue working towards closing down the two remaining zoos, and bringing all animals to safety.