MARCH 20, 2019 - BOSTON, MA – After weeks of tense negotiations, it is now official: At the end of March, FOUR PAWS International will rescue over 40 animals from Gaza's oldest and most notorious zoo.
The zoo, located in the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza strip, made horrific headlines earlier this year after four lion cubs froze to death in January. Then only weeks later, shocking footage of a lioness being declawed with garden shears went viral. In addition to the amateur declawing procedure, the zoo owner claimed to have amputated the leg of an injured fox with a circular saw himself. He also announced plans to remove the claws of other male lions in a similar, ruthless way for “safety reasons” because he allows young children and zoo visitors to play with the big cats.
“With or without claws, it is never safe for wild animals and people to interact. We knew that time was running out before the other lions would be faced with this cruel treatment, so we had to act as quickly as possible."
Robert Ware, Executive Director of FOUR PAWS International in the U.S.
For the over 40 animals trapped at Rafah Zoo – including five lions, two wolves (one pregnant female), a hyena, various monkeys, porcupines, emus, ostriches, foxes, cats and dogs – the years of suffering will soon be over. To date, over 150,000 people have called for immediate action through an online petition set up by FOUR PAWS to urge authorities to act. Coupling the mounting public pressure with direct negotiations with FOUR PAWS, 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 to examine the animals and safely load them into transport crates. The animals will then travel nearly 200 miles to sanctuary in Jordan. Here they will be accommodated in appropriate facilities, such as 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”
- Dr. Amir Khalil, FOUR PAWS veterinarian and head of mission.
FOUR PAWS is the only international animal welfare organization invited and authorized to perform such rescue and evacuation missions in the region. Specifically, the organization has been active in Gaza since 2014 and has closed two other zoos; the Al-Bisan zoo and Khan Younis Zoo. FOUR PAWS has also performed daring rescue missions in Aleppo, Syria in July of 2017 and Mosul, Iraq in February of the same year. Abused animals rescued by FOUR PAWS are provided with lifelong care at FOUR PAWS' sanctuaries or partner projects in Jordan, Germany, South Africa and more.
The zoo in Rafah is well known to FOUR PAWS and first opened on the Egyptian border in 1999. Since then, wild animals have been repeatedly smuggled through underground tunnels to and from Gaza. Many of the animals have died in rocket attacks, gun battles or from starvation since the opening of the zoo. Some of the animals’ bodies were left to dry and mummify or while others were stuffed to be put on display, as an eerie greeting for visitors. In 2015, the owner of the zoo sold two lion cubs, Max and Mona, to a local citizen. Photos of the two lions living with a family in a refugee camp playing with young children circulated across the globe and FOUR PAWS rescued the cubs.
In the run-up to their latest rescue mission, FOUR PAWS launched an online petition collecting public pressure to demand the shutdown of the Rafah Zoo and the end to suffering for dozens of animals. That petition has already been signed by more than 150,000 people worldwide in just a few months.
In addition to the public support of this mission, American journalist and businessman Eric S. Margolis, has financially supported FOUR PAWS in the urgent rescue of these animals. Margolis’ passion for animals and their wellbeing was the driving force behind the Eric S. Margolis Family Foundation. The foundation is dedicated to supporting organizations who advocate for and rescue abused and neglected animals while ensuring they are provided with lifelong species appropriate care in sanctuary. Margolis previously supported FOUR PAWS in its rescue mission to Aleppo, Syria in 2017 and is dedicated to giving animals in need around the world, a new life.