Zoo an­i­mals go hun­gry

The Middle East con­flict is also tak­ing a toll on an­i­mals in zoos in Gaza.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ECOWATCH - By SArAH BEN­HAIDA

IN THE Gaza Strip, where res­i­dents face a daily strug­gle to sur­vive, an­i­mals at the Khan Yu­nis zoo are dy­ing ev­ery week and the tiger hasn’t eaten for days.

Of hun­dreds of an­i­mals bought for the zoo’s 2007 open­ing, the only sur­vivors are the last deer of its herd, a pel­i­can, an os­trich, two por­cu­pines and the tiger – hun­gry yet still ma­jes­tic.

All the other cages are empty and over­grown, while a thick stench lingers in the air. Dusty cats weave in and out of the chipped, green bars of the cages as a puppy howls in its pen. Now, af­ter years of ef­fort, zoo owner Mo­hammed Aweda is ad­mit­ting de­feat. He plans to sell the tiger and the rest of the an­i­mals and close the zoo af­ter see­ing his dreams fail.

The tiger “has not eaten meat for four days,” Aweda said. “The food costs 250 Is­raeli shekels ( RM270) per day. I have not man­aged to earn that amount from zoo vis­its in one year.”

When it first opened, fam­i­lies thronged to the 2,000sqm Khan Yu­nis zoo in the south of the Pales­tinian en­clave to see ea­gles, lions, the tiger, deer, pel­i­cans and even croc­o­diles. But be­tween 2008 and 2014, the Gaza Strip, ruled by the Pales­tinian Is­lamist move­ment Ha­mas, has ex­pe­ri­enced three wars with Is­rael.

The last con­flict, in the sum­mer of 2014, killed 2,251 Gazans, the ma­jor­ity of them civil­ians, and 73 Is­raelis, in­clud­ing 67 sol­diers, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions. The an­i­mals, too, were caught up in Is­raeli bomb­ing, with 80 killed ac­cord­ing to Aweda. Af­ter the con­flict “I waited for days be­fore en­ter­ing and the smell of death was strong. I found car­casses ev­ery­where.”

Is­rael main­tains a crip­pling block­ade of the Pales­tinian en­clave and with lit­tle in the way of a lo­cal econ­omy Gaza’s res­i­dents sim­ply don’t have any money left to spend on go­ing to the zoo.

In­side, a stench emerges from a cage where a barely leg­i­ble sign tells vis­i­tors to re­spect the clean­li­ness of the premises. Dessi­cated bod­ies of croc­o­diles and a lion lie in the sun, sur­rounded by the bones of other an­i­mals. The weather is fine, but the zoo seems more like an open- air ceme­tery than a place for joy. Two other zoos in Gaza are in sim­i­lar states.

School bus driver Tamer al- Nirab says dozens of chil­dren used to visit the zoo ev­ery day but now “no­body can af­ford it”. Eighty per­cent of Gaza’s pop­u­la­tion are re­liant on in­ter­na­tional aid, ac­cord­ing to the UN. At its peak, the zoo had 60 stocked cages, with Aweda and his 13 fam­ily mem­bers liv­ing off the prof­its.

But now they have taken up other jobs just to try to ob­tain enough food for the an­i­mals.

“Some of my brothers be­came driv­ers, oth­ers have found em­ploy­ment in small busi­nesses,” says Aweda, stand­ing in front of the cage where the 180kg, eight- year- old tiger paces.

To ob­tain the tiger was a mam­moth ef­fort, he says, ex­plain­ing that it was trans­ported “from Sene­gal to Egypt, then from Si­nai to Gaza through a tun­nel.”

He is now hop­ing to sell the beast for US$ 30,000 ( RM126,000). Af­ter that, Aweda says, he will sell the land, and the small zoo of Khan Yu­nis will be no more. – AFP

Zoo owner Mo­hammed Aweda with mum­mi­fied an­i­mals. he in­tends to sell the few an­i­mals left there. — reuters

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