This past week, the Vienna and Boston based Four Paws animal welfare organization made another brilliant rescue of 47 near-death animals from the awful ‘zoo of sorrows,’ a zoo-prison for animals within the greater prison of Gaza. All the animals at this zoo were smuggled in to Gaza through tunnels from Egypt.
The heroic Egyptian veterinary doctor Amir Khalil led the Four Paws team. Two years ago, I was with Dr. Khalil during the dramatic and very difficult rescue of starving wild animals from the war-ravaged zoo in Aleppo, Syria. I was proud to have helped both that rescue and the current Gaza operation. This time, the renowned French humane NGO `30 Million d’Amis’ joined our Gaza effort.
Why, one may ask, was there a zoo in Gaza, of all places? This strip of infertile land next to Israel’s Mediterranean coast is a miserable hellhole into which two million unwanted Palestinian refugees were squeezed. There are few poorer or more hopeless places on the globe.
With Israel and its ally, Egypt, blocking Gaza’s exits and ports, the population suffers from shortages of food, electricity, water, medical care, and sanitation. After one of the Mideast’s rare free democratic elections, a militant movement, Hamas, ousted the US/Israeli run Palestine Liberation Organization from Gaza and took over, to Israel’s fury which brands Hamas ‘terrorists.’
The Gaza zoo was about the only place parents could amuse their children. That’s why zoos exist everywhere: caging up wild animals to entertain children that can just as well see the animals on TV. It does not seem to matter that being caged up in tiny spaces drives most animals mad, particularly elephants, bears, big cats and rhinos. I can’t bear to see any animals caged, be they humans or wild beasts. That’s why I support animal rights groups and the US organization ‘Innocence Project’ that helps free unjustly jailed prisoners, most of them poor blacks.
We were spurred to action earlier this year after seeing pictures of four lovely lion cubs at the Gaza zoo who had frozen to death due to lack of heated shelter and adequate food. Two of the majestic tigers rescued from Aleppo – Sultan and Saeeda – died after their rescue from Syria due to kidney disease caused by years of malnutrition and being trapped in the middle of a war. Even Four Paws’ big cat specialists in Holland could not save them.
The Gaza zoo’s brutal local owner used garden shears to declaw one of the baby lions to prepare it for a children’s petting zoo. Pictures of this horror also spurred us to launch the Gaza operation.
Trapped in Gaza were five lions, monkeys, peacocks, a lonely little porcupine, wolves, foxes, cats and dogs, pelicans and a morose hyena. I hoped the hyena could be paired with a hyena we rescued from Aleppo, whose blind companion has recently died of kidney disease.
The Four Paws ‘commando’ team united in Jordan and then patiently waited permission to cross into Israel, then to Gaza. There was the usual bureaucratic red tape as officials on all sides sought to derive advantage or money from the animals. Then, to our shock and dismay, a rocket was fired from Gaza into Israel, provoking the usual heavy bombing response and threats of a land invasion.
After an interminable wait, Four Paws finally managed to get permission to cross the Israeli border and enter Gaza. Israeli elections were impending, which made it all the more urgent to mount the escape from Gaza. Fortunately, the Israelis, as usual, were far more accommodating to animals than to Arabs, and let the little convoy from Gaza cross its heavily defended border, traveling 300 km to the Jordanian border.
Israel, I must say, is wonderful with animals. My much-loved cat, Nessyiah, was a tough Tel Aviv street cat that was run over by a car and her spine broken. The vets kept her in traction for three months and cared for her – at no charge – until an Orthodox Jewish friend of ours brought her to North America to be pampered and spoiled. I am convinced she is a Mossad Agent who speaks nine languages.
Happily, the little Noah’s ark from Gaza finally made it to Jordan, safe and sound. The lions are already at South Africa’s Lionsrock sanctuary, busy doing lion things. The declawed young lion is in Holland at a Four Paws sanctuary, and the rest of the gang is tucked away at the very fine Al Ma’wa animal sanctuary in Jordan. Its patroness, Princess Alia, keeps a sharp eye on them in their comfortable, spacious new homes in the hills north of Amman.
My parting thought: three cheers to Four Paws. No more cages, no more hunting. Save and respect our beautiful animals.
Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2019