20.3.2019 – After weeks of arduous negotiations, it is now official: International animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS will rescue over 40 animals from Gaza's oldest and most notorious zoo at the end of March. The zoo in Rafah made horrific headlines in 2019 after four lion cubs froze to death in January, then only weeks later, shocking footage of a lioness being declawed with garden shears went around the globe. To date, almost 150,000 people have called for immediate action. Once the evacuation is complete, FOUR PAWS will initially place all rescued animals in sanctuaries in Jordan.
For the over 40 animals trapped at Rafah Zoo – including five lions, a hyena, various monkeys, wolves, porcupines, foxes, cats and dogs – the years of suffering will soon be over. The zoo owner has finally agreed to hand over the animals to FOUR PAWS. At the end of March, a FOUR PAWS rescue team of expert veterinarians, wild animal transporters and animal care takers will be on site in Gaza for multiple days to examine the animals and safely load them into their transport crates. The animals will then travel almost 300-kilometres to Jordan. Here they will be accommodated in sanctuaries, such as the wildlife rescue centre “Al Ma'wa for Nature and Wildlife” – a joint project of FOUR PAWS and the Princess Alia Foundation.
“We are happy to finally put an end to this horror. For far too long, the animals of Rafah Zoo have had to live under unimaginably dreadful conditions. Evacuating more than 40 animals in just a few days will be a logistical, mental and physical feat – it is our biggest rescue mission to date”
says FOUR PAWS veterinarian and head of mission Dr Amir Khalil, who has extensive experience in such rescues, having evacuated two zoos in Gaza in 2014 and 2016.
Rafah Zoo: Declawed lioness, stuffed animals and frozen lion cubs
At the beginning of 2019, Gaza's oldest zoo in Rafah attracted worldwide attention. Four lion cubs froze to death there due to the harsh weather and poor keeping conditions. Only a few weeks later, a 14-month-old lioness was forever mutilated by the brutal and unprofessional removal of her claws. The owner of the zoo announced that he would also remove the claws of her brothers – if necessary without the help of a veterinarian. He also claimed to have amputated the leg of an injured fox himself with a circular saw. The Rafah Zoo opened on the Egyptian border in 1999. From there, wild animals are repeatedly smuggled through underground tunnels to and from Gaza. Many of the animals have died in rocket attacks and war battles since the opening of the zoo. Some of them are still stuffed and on display at Rafah Zoo.
FOUR PAWS: Numerous operations in Gaza
FOUR PAWS has been active in Gaza since 2014 and has already evacuated and closed down two zoos – Al-Bisan zoo and Khan Younis zoo – in the region. The former zoo inhabitants were transferred to FOUR PAWS' own sanctuaries. The zoo in Rafah is well known to the international animal welfare organisation. In 2015 the owner of the zoo sold the two lion cubs Max and Mona to a local citizen, who gave them to his grandchildren as a gift. Photos of the two lions in the middle of a refugee camp went around the globe. FOUR PAWS confiscated the cubs and brought them to Jordan. In the run-up to their latest rescue mission, FOUR PAWS launched a petition that has already been signed by almost 150,000 people worldwide. Together with FOUR PAWS, they call for the final closure of Rafah Zoo. American journalist and businessman Eric S. Margolis also financially supports the rescue of the animals.