Plea to UAE to find new homes for baboons rescued from war zone zoo in Gaza Strip

Six primates saved from run-down Rafah Zoo need a new permanent home and the UAE is a viable option for conservationists

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An appeal has been sent out to the UAE to help find new homes for baboons that are among 47 animals rescued from a run-down zoo in Gaza.

Six adult baboons, two male hamadryas, three green females and one male savanah at under-siege Rafah Zoo have been saved from neglect and hostilities in the Gaza Strip, and transported to Jordan.

Animal specialists are now appealing for help from UAE zoos or registered private collectors, to permanently re-home the primates.

“The animals are in good condition and have been vaccinated,” said Dr Amir Khalil, an Egyptian vet at the Austrian animal rescue organisation Four Paws, that specialises in helping abandoned war zone zoos.

"Unfortunately, Jordan is not the best place for them, so is not a long term solution.

“The plan was to take them to a sanctuary in Israel but we were told we were not allowed to cross the border.”

The baboons were destined for the Israeli Primate Sanctuary Foundation but were turned away due to border restrictions during recent elections.

Some animals required veterinary care, as the crumbling facility had inadequate medical supplies and food due to the Israeli blockade.

Many of the zoo’s prize exhibits were killed in gunfire during fighting between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers.

Five lions are among the animals moved to Jordan, along with a wolf, hyena, fox, emu, ostrich and porcupine.

Four Paws conducted a similar operation in Egypt during the uprising in 2011 and in Iraq in 2017, rescuing a lion called Simba, and a bear, Lula, from Muntazah Al Nour Zoo.

Both animals were also flown out to Jordan.

“In Jordan, it is very cold in winter and there can be a lot of snow so the baboons cannot stay there,” said Dr Khalil.

“There are no other sanctuaries in Gaza.

“Taking them to the UAE for a new home would show the country is happy to assist in these important animal welfare issues.”

Vets have the support of the Jordanian government, with export permits secured.

Dr Khalil said the charity will fund air transport costs, but is appealing for support from the UAE government to facilitate the move.

Before accepting the animals into government-run zoos, UAE authorities must find out if the baboons were illegally kept in Gaza or bred in captivity.

“If they are legal animals, there should be no problem getting them into the UAE if all permits are in order,” said Tim Husband, technical director at Dubai Safari.

“Health checks would ensure they do not have diseases that could compromise populations here.

“Animals can be moved under special circumstances if there are no documents, but at the discretion of the authorities.”

Although closed to the public until later this year, Dubai Safari has more than 70 hamadryas baboons and three chacma baboons rescued from private collections.

Most of those primates were transferred from the now closed Dubai Zoo.

A further 15 or so baboons have been added to the troop from private collectors in the UAE who have given up the animals, bought as pets.

Baboons caught up in conflict in zoo in the heart of Gaza need new homes after a major rescue effort by campaigners. Courtesy Four Paws
Baboons caught up in conflict in zoo in the heart of Gaza need new homes after a major rescue effort by campaigners. Courtesy Four Paws

The six baboons from Jordan would need a 30 day quarantine period, and extensive physical and psychological tests before they are integrated into an existing troop.

“Unfortunately, baboons are fairly common so there is no great demand for them in zoos,” said Mr Husband.

“Young animals are taken from their mothers and sold to the illegal pet trade.

“When these animal grow up, people soon realise they are not suitable pets as they have teeth as big as dogs and can be dangerous.

“When they get too big, people usually keep them in a small cage hidden from view, or they dump them somewhere.

“There is always conflict with introducing these animals to an existing troop.”

Al Ain zoo is extending its gorilla sanctuary to 10,000 square metres, with three indoor and outdoor exhibit areas.

But experts there said they do not have the space for the baboons from Gaza.

The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, responsible for import licenses, did not respond to requests for comment.