More than 40 animals were evacuated from the squalid conditions in a Gaza Strip zoo to be taken to a reserve in Jordan on Sunday, according to an animal welfare group.
About 47 animals were rescued, which included five lions, monkeys, porcupines, and a wolf, who were all weak and thin after living in “terrible conditions,” according to Four Paws, an animal welfare group that organized the transfer of the animals.
Four Paws said they took the animals from Rafah Zoo in the southern Gaza Strip, which is the oldest in the enclave and has been under an Israeli blockade for more than a decade.
Martin Bauer, spokesman for the Vienna-based welfare group, told AFP that although the animals were not in great shape, they were still stable enough for transportation.
The animals were sedated and placed in cages for their transfer to a reserve in Jordan, which is about 300 kilometers (190 miles) from the enclave. Two of the five lions will eventually be sent to South Africa.
Bauer said they had the support of Gaza authorities, and the zoo’s owner, Fathy Jomaa, who said he could no longer afford to take care of the animals.
Originally, the move was supposed to be in late March, but Four Paws claimed they could not enter the enclave because of the violence that erupted that week between the Gaza militants and Israel.
The zoo has been in terrible conditions since its 1999 opening, after a number of animals have died from bombings. This was followed by the continuous wars since 2008, between Israel and Palestine.
The zoo also received major backlash after Jomaa declawed one of the lions with garden shears so that customers could play with her. Gaza Strip suffers from poverty, and severe electricity shortage, which led four lion cubs to die of cold in the zoo in January this year.
Jomaa eventually called Four Paws for help and move the creatures to a better place. He also blamed the blockade of the enclave for the bad conditions of his zoo, according to a BBC report.
“When we raise a cat for a week or a month we feel sad to lose it, but what about suddenly losing animals that I have lived with for 20 years?.” Jomaa has told BBC.