Gaza's zoo animals are evacuated to Jordan

Animal conservation group transported lions, hyenas and monkeys 300 kilometres to escape conflict

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More than 40 animals, including lions and rare African monkeys, have made a long, sedated journey from Rafah Zoo in Gaza to their new home in Jordan.

There was a lack of medical supplies and facilities for the animals in the Gaza Strip, as Israel continues its illegal siege.

Four Paws, an animal conservation group, began a large-scale operation to transport 47 animals from the zoo, through Palestine and Israel to Jordan, where the government has given them shelter.

"The intensive work of the past few weeks has brought our team to its limits. To examine and load about 50 animals in only a few days was a huge challenge," Four Paws spokesman Martin Bauer told The National. 

Since the zoo opened in 1999, many of the animals have been killed as a result of fighting between Palestinians and the Israeli military, with many caught up in the fallout from rocket attacks and skirmishes.

The operation to transport the animals was halted several times because of the mounting violence in Gaza. Earlier this month, Four Paws published a statement saying the operation was postponed due to clashes in the enclave, sparking fears that more animals might be killed.

“Due to the military escalation, all ways into Gaza were closed. The team was not allowed to enter, so after evaluation of the situation and the potential for escalation, we decided to postpone the operation,” Dr Amir Khalil, the team leader, said at the time. “No matter how long it takes, we will not give up. We will get inside Gaza and rescue the animals."

As soon as they were able to enter the enclave, the team began preparations for the 300-kilometre journey to Jordan.

In 2004, Rafah Zoo, which is located in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip, was almost completely demolished. Some of the animals were killed, and they were stuffed and put on display at the zoo.

The zoo also faced difficulties when its owner, Fathy Jomaa, was accused of negligence and improper care of the animals, several of which were endangered. Last year, a video of a lion being declawed with garden sheers caused a public outcry.

Mr Jomaa blamed the Israeli siege and economic sanctions that have all but crashed the local economy. He contacted Four Paws to help transport the animals to safety.

Mr Bauer said that although there was "definitely a lack of food and medical care" provided to the animals, the group would not blame the zoo. "We are happy the animals are with us now,”  he said.

Among the animals, which include a hyena, fox, wolf, emu, ostrich and porcupine, are five lions. Two of them will on Monday fly to South Africa, where they will live at Four Paws' big cat sanctuary, Lionsrock.

Although some locals were upset about the closure of Rafah Zoo, Four Paws said Palestinians helped the group to organise the move.

The team will now look for suitable permanent locations for the animals.