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Gaza Mission: FOUR PAWS to remove lion cubs from refugee camp

 “Mona” and “Max” have become a significant danger for people in the Rafah camp


JUNE 22, 2015- BOSTON - Photos of the lion cubs in the middle of the refugee camp in the Gaza Strip went around the world in March 2015. A father of six bought the cubs, then just two months old, from Rafah Zoo as a treat for his grandchildren. The new ‘pets’ quickly pushed the family to their financial and physical limits. Dr Amir Khalil, leader of the FOUR PAWS emergency team, has spent weeks seeking a solution for the cubs, named Mona and Max. The strict travel and access regulations, and dealing with the cubs’ owner, have been proving very challenging for the FOUR PAWS team.


In the starting blocks for a new operation in Gaza
FOUR PAWS is confident that it will soon get the go-ahead to step in in the Gaza Strip. A team of vets and logistics staff will soon travel to Rafah to rescue the two cubs from this irresponsible private keeping. Khalil: “The big cats are now five months old, and they’re living with the family – which includes small children – under one roof! That’s why we want to get them out of there as quickly as we can, not least for the people’s safety. Both cubs have already grown quite a bit bigger and stronger since their arrival in the refugee camp, and they now represent a significant danger for the inhabitants of the camp.”


Once there, the team will negotiate with the owner and appeal to his common sense. As soon as the lions are handed over to FOUR PAWS they will be transferred to the New Hope Center, the transit station of Al Ma’wa Wildlife Sanctuary in Jordan.


Although Gaza is small, there are around 40 big cats there. Smuggling of exotic animals is a major problem. Even Mona and Max’s parents are said to have been smuggled to Rafah Zoo as cubs, by underground tunnels from Egypt into Gaza. However, military conflict last year saw the Egyptian army destroy many of the tunnels.


Travel formalities hold up rescue operations

The continuing conflict in the Gaza Strip makes travel in and out extremely difficult. For some time now, FOUR PAWS has been seeking official permission for the rescue. This is not FOUR PAWS’ first operation in the Middle East: in September 2014 the organisation carried out an emergency admission in the heavily-damaged Al-Bisan Zoo in the north of the Gaza Strip, and three lions were transferred to a rescue station. In April, a FOUR PAWS emergency team carried out a relief operation to provide medical treatment and food to the animals in the run-down Khan Younis Zoo.


Khalil: “We very much hope that the current owner sees sense, and lets us take the lions. They should be given a beautiful, safe home – and not be sold on to another zoo in the area!”


Around the world, countless thousands of big cats are forced to live and suffer in circuses, badly-run zoos, or in private hands. Many are kept in extremely cramped conditions, are incorrectly or insufficiently fed, are ill, or exhibit behavioral disorders. FOUR PAWS aims to improve the situation for these fascinating but also dangerous wild animals. One of the facilities run by the organization is the unique Big Cat Sanctuary LIONSROCK in South Africa, which now offers a species-appropriate home to over a hundred lions and tigers from poor keeping conditions. FOUR PAWS also runs far-reaching campaigns for big cats in human care, including campaigning for a ban on wild animals in circuses, and the closure of inadequate zoos.


With the #FOURPAWSgowild campaign, people concerned with animal welfare bring into focus both animal suffering and solutions for it. Under the guise of entertainment (circuses), education (zoos), medicine/tradition (healing substances made from tiger bones), and sport (trophy hunting in Africa) thousands of big cats in Europe, South Africa and the USA lead miserable lives in appalling conditions. The international #FOURPAWSgowild campaign gives them a voice.