Will you help FOUR PAWS save the animals of Gaza's zoos?
JANUARY 2016 - Right now, animals sit scared, starving and dying in a zoo torn apart by the conflict in Gaza. Dropping temperatures and a dramatic decline in patrons have left these facilities bare-boned: several months after our last mission to Gaza the situation for the remaining zoo animals has not improved at all.
You may have seen the latest news articles on Gaza through the Associated Press, New York Post and US News (Animals at Gaza Zoo die of Hunger, Disease). FOUR PAWS has been monitoring captive wild animals in Gaza for years, and the situation is in fact, dire. Fortunately, we are mobilizing our contacts and resources to find a sustainable solution in Gaza and put an end to this needless animal suffering.
A FOUR PAWS team will be on the way to Gaza to provide the tigers, lions and other wild animals there with food and fresh water for the Khan Younis and Rafah Zoos – two of the six zoos that still exist in the Gaza Strip (the Al Hayat Zoo has been closed since 2008 and the zoo owner has sold all the animals). We have already gathered food packages that we will distribute to the animals in the next couple of days. But that’s just a drop in the bucket. We need your support in order to help as many animals as possible. We must act now so that the animals survive! Please help us!
FOUR PAWS background in Gaza
Since September 2014, FOUR PAWS has undertaken several successful emergency missions in the Gaza Strip. Our first mission involved providing emergency relief to the Al-Bisan Zoo, located in the northern part of Gaza. The FOUR PAWS team provided food and veterinary services, helped improve the enclosures, and trained zoo staff to care for the remaining animals. One lioness and two male lions were also rescued by our team from the heavily-damaged facility and transported to a sanctuary in Jordan.
In April 2015, FOUR PAWS responded to another zoo, this time in the south of Gaza named the Khan Younis Zoo. This desolate zoo had been widely reported by media as “the worst zoo in the world” after pictures emerged of animals at the zoo that had starved to death and been mummified for display by the zoo’s owner. As the only animal welfare organization to be granted official permission to enter the conflict region, the FOUR PAWS team provided veterinary care for the animals and organized emergency medical care and food for the zoo for three months.
Later in 2015, FOUR PAWS again became active in the region by rescuing two lion cubs that were living as pets in a refugee camp in Rafah and transferring them to the Al Ma’wa for Nature and Wildlife sanctuary in Jordan, made possible by a collaboration with the Princess Alia Foundation.
Accomplishing these missions is no easy feat and requires a lot of planning, patience, and perseverance. It is extremely difficult to enter the region and very dangerous to work in such an active area of unrest and conflict. FOUR PAWS must work with local governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and various officials and representatives from Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Palestine to be granted the numerous permissions, permits, and certificates required for these transnational rescue missions to occur. Funding the necessary medical, personnel, documentation, and equipment requirements to transport animals across country borders is also a major undertaking and could not happen without the important financial support from our members and donors.
Information on Gaza
For an area that is only 4 to 7 miles wide and 25 miles long, the amount of destruction and deterioration in the Gaza Strip is massive. Thousands of people have been killed and injured in the ongoing Israeli and Palestinian conflict, resulting in border closures, blockades, and extreme travel restrictions enforced by neighboring countries Israel and Egypt. Countless buildings and facilities have been bombed and destroyed, affecting not only the human population in Gaza but the animals in their care as well.
With nearly two million people struggling to survive amidst severe political instability and a 40% unemployment rate, it is difficult for the Gaza territory’s remaining zoos to provide food, water, veterinary care, and protection for their captive animals. Although Gaza is small, there is thought to be 15 big cats, down from a recent estimate of 40 with most dying of starvation, malnutrition or from the fighting itself.
The continuing conflict in the Gaza Strip makes travel in and out of the area extremely difficult. Thankfully, FOUR PAWS is in a unique position to help these animals because we have experience with such emergency rescue missions, well established contacts in the region, and a long history of rescuing and caring for big cats. FOUR PAWS also works closely with the Princess Alia Foundation, which allows us to guarantee a safe and secure new home for the rescued animals at the Al Ma’wa for Nature and Wildlife Sanctuary in Jordan.
The Al-Bisan Zoo (September 2014)
Al-Bisan zoo covers about 2.5 acres of a 60 acre park near the border between Israel and Gaza. The Al-Bisan recreational park was built by Hamas in 2008 and meant to serve as a tourist attraction for Gazans. During the 2014 conflict between Israeli and Hamas militants, part of the park in Jabalya, northern Gaza was hit multiple times and many buildings were destroyed by airstrikes in the war. The lives of the animals were endangered due to the destroyed infrastructure and facilities and more than 80 animals died during that time.
For the 21 animals that survived the ordeal, the situation was desperate. Many of the animals were sick, injured, and traumatized, living in damaged enclosures without food or water. Unable to move the animals, zoo staff couldn’t clean the cages, and in one enclosure a crocodile sat in the hot zoo with relatively no water available for relief. On top of the injuries some of the animals sustained during the violence, many had also not eaten for days because of the zoo’s lack of funds and government assistance to buy food. This was especially true for the lions. Originally four, one of the lions died during the conflict and the remaining three (one lioness and two lions) were starving and weak.
Unable to provide food and care for the animals, the zoo management reached out to FOUR PAWS for help. Thanks to our established connections in the region a FOUR PAWS emergency team, led by veterinarian Dr. Amir Khalil, was able to deliver urgently needed medicine and food for the zoo animals. The team carried out lifesaving surgeries and vaccinations on the animals and restored enclosures, water pipes, and electricity for the zoo.
For the two lions and lioness, it was decided by all that the best course of action was to relocate them to a more species-appropriate home at the Al Ma’wa Wildlife Sanctuary in Jordan. In order to accomplish this, a great deal of pre-planning and communication was needed with various officials and representatives from four entities – Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Palestine – resulting in a massive transnational rescue mission. Additional support was received by the French animal welfare organization, 30 Millions d'Amis.
The Khan Younis Zoo (April 2015)
Opened in 2007, the Khan Younis zoo is a privately owned zoo in the south of Gaza. The zoo, which is a little over two acres, has been the focus of a growing number of negative reports in the media around the world and was dubbed the “worst zoo in the world” after photographs circulated showing dead, mummified animals in enclosures next to living ones. Because of the civil unrest from the Israeli Palestinian conflict, the zoo has been severely under pressure due to a lack of income, unable to pay employees or feed the animals. During the worst of the war, zoo staff were unable to reach the zoo and dozens of animals died from starvation and dehydration, leaving around 43 animals still alive today. With no government body in Gaza to oversee zoos, it is possible that the number of dead animals stuffed and left on display in their enclosures may one day outnumber the living.
When FOUR PAWS responded to the call for help from the zoo, the scene that awaited the team when they arrived was as horrifying as prior reports had suggested. The few surviving animals had no food, scarcely any water, and no access to veterinary care. The decrepit enclosures were covered with garbage and debris. The two surviving big cats – one lioness and a tiger - were penned up in their destroyed enclosures and highly emaciated. Many other animals had already starved. Like many exotic animals in Gaza, the big cats had been smuggled into the region as cubs via Egypt through the underground tunnel system, which has since been destroyed by the Egyptian army.
Once there, the FOUR PAWS team provided veterinary care and food for the animals. They organized a three month supply of food to be delivered weekly, as the zoo had no fridge or freezer in which to store food. Dr. Amir Khalil and his team treated a baboon and a llama, which were suffering from severe infestation caused by parasites. The lioness had a severe ear infection and was also treated. The team carried out vaccinations on a dog and several cats that lived on the premises as well. As stated by the Zoo Manager Ziyad Oweida, “We are very relieved that FOUR PAWS is helping us now. There has been much media attention, but no one actually came to help us.”
The Rafah zoo and the rescue of lion cubs Max and Mona (July 2015)
In March 2015, a father of six bought two lion cubs – then just two months old – from the Rafah Zoo as a treat for his grandchildren. Soon after, photos of the lion cubs in the middle of a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip went around the world. Concerns for both the safety of the people and the lions grew quickly as the cubs got bigger and feeding them became more difficult for the owner.
FOUR PAWS spent weeks seeking a solution for the affected animals. The strict travel and access regulations into Gaza and dealing with the cubs’ owner were very challenging for the team, but in the end a compromise was reached and the planned transfer of the cubs to a better suited living situation at the Al Ma’wa Wildlife Sanctuary in Jordan was put into motion.
After working on a planned rescue in detail for weeks, the mission was underway. It began on a Thursday when the emergency rescue team under the lead of Dr. Amir Khalil finally reached Gaza from Amman, Jordan via Israel. Despite the available entry permits there were long waiting periods on the side of the de facto regime of the Gaza Strip. After hours of negotiations the majority of the team were not allowed to pass. Team leader Dr. Khalil decided not to separate the team and instead spent the night in the so called no-man's-land. The next morning, a small part of the FOUR PAWS team, who were authorized by Hamas, entered the Gaza Strip to negotiate with the owner of the lion cubs in the refugee camp for one last time and collect the young lion and lioness.
However, at the planned exit to Israel on Friday morning the Israeli officials abruptly closed the border. The team on site remained calm and patient. After long negotiations with Hamas, all the team members, together with cubs Max and Mona, were allowed back to Gaza where they spent the night at a hotel. On Sunday afternoon the FOUR PAWS team was finally able to pass the last border post to Israel and continued their travel to Jordan.
A rescue action such as the one for the Gaza lion cubs involves extensive effort and accumulates high costs. Only thanks to the numerous sponsors is it possible for FOUR PAWS to provide help and assistance in a quick, efficient, and professional way. The cubs rescue mission was also supported by the French animal welfare organization “30 Millions d’Amis”.
As previously stated, entry and exit from the war torn region is extremely difficult. FOUR PAWS is the only animal welfare organization that received official permission to do so by the authorities.
A note to our donors
For this campaign, we chose a crowd sourcing platform, similar to GoFundMe and Kickstarter, because it allows for swift, digital-friendly fundraising with a community feel. Visitors to the campaign page can see how many people have donated, are able to watch the total rise, see how close we grow towards our goal, and contribute in different ways such as donating, commenting, and sharing.
We chose Generosity.com because of its ease of use, the site’s support staff, and the company’s long list of successes. Generosity.com’s parent company, Indiegogo, the largest global site for fundraisers, has raised $800 million across 600 thousand projects thus far. Generosity.com is geared towards nonprofits and cause related actions. It’s no-fee platform, leaves FOUR PAWS with the most “bang for your buck!” Instead of fees, there is a suggested donation to the platform when donating to this campaign (and yes, “$0” is a totally acceptable option!)
So, in case you were wondering why our DONATE button takes you off-site, this is the reason! Please know that all donations are completely secure and thank you for being a champion for animals!
Donations in the form of checks are also welcome to be mailed to FOUR PAWS, 6 Beacon St, #1110, Boston, MA 02108