Cramped Gaza zoo reopens, only months after closure

Owners of the Rafah Zoo in the southern Gaza Strip say they struggle to find enough money to feed the animals. (AFP)
Updated 24 September 2019

Cramped Gaza zoo reopens, only months after closure

  • Animal rights charity Four Paws took away all the animals to sanctuaries in April, as the zoo pledged to close forever
  • Four Paws paid the zoo's owners $50,000 in the year before its closure for medical treatments and food

RAFAH, Palestinian Territories: A lioness is beaten with sticks while her cubs are dragged away — a Gazan zoo closed after a long campaign has reopened, with conditions seemingly as bad as ever.
The Rafah Zoo in the southern Gaza Strip was known for its emaciated animals, with the owners saying they struggled to find enough money to feed them.
In April, international animal rights charity Four Paws took all the animals to sanctuaries, receiving a pledge the zoo would close forever.
But last month it reopened with two lions and three new cubs, penned in cages only a few square meters in size.
Critics say the owners want to bully Four Paws or other animal welfare organizations into giving them thousands of dollars to free the animals into their care.
Four Paws paid the zoo’s owners more than $50,000 in the year before its closure for medical treatments, food and caretakers.
The zoo’s owner insists the reopening is solely for the enjoyment of local residents.

When AFP visited the zoo recently, the badly stuffed corpse of a lion was displayed near the entrance.
An ostrich in a three-meter-square pen pecked endlessly at the cage’s bars, while two monkeys sat chewing on litter.
At the far end the lion and lioness were kept in separate cages, each only a few square meters.
The owners were seeking to remove the cubs from their mother to play with visiting children.
To do so they hit the lioness with sticks and banged on the cage to confuse her, with staff later taunting her when the cubs had been taken out.
“A lion needs 1,000 square meters to play in. Here they have seven square meters,” Mohammed Aweda, a prominent animal enthusiast in Gaza, told AFP.
“The zoo won’t survive during the winter, because they are lacking in daily goods which cost a lot. For you or I or anyone who owns a zoo (in Gaza), the economy is very tough.”
Palestinian Gaza is run by Islamist movement Hamas and has been blockaded by Israel for more than a decade. There have been three wars between them in that time.
The enclave of two million people had negative eight percent economic growth last year.
Around two-thirds of young people are unemployed, while nearly 50 percent are below the poverty line, according to the World Bank. Many Palestinians are desperate for ways to make money.
Amid international outcry over conditions at the zoo, last year Four Paws reached an agreement with the owners.
In April nearly 50 animals, including lions, monkeys, peacocks and porcupines, were taken out of Gaza through Israeli territory to sanctuaries in Jordan and elsewhere.
The NGO said in a statement it explicitly does not pay for animals but provided funding for “costs for medical treatments, food and caretakers so that the over 40 animals were strong and healthy enough for the rescue and transfer.”
In total the amount paid over a year was $55,000, the NGO said.
Four Paws said the zoo’s owner promised not to reopen.
Critics suspect the owners of seeking to bully Four Paws into paying again.
“Any international organization won’t deal with this issue easily because it has become trade,” Aweda said.

The newly reopened zoo’s manager Ashraf Jumaa, from the same family that owned the old one, said they brought the new lions through tunnels from Egypt.
However others suggested they were bought from another animal center in northern Gaza.
He denied they wanted to blackmail Four Paws.
“The first goal is entertainment, not trade. The main reason we reopened the zoo was people in the area that supported us,” he said.
He said it would be less expensive because there were fewer animals, but admitted they would struggle to afford enough food once the cubs were fully grown.
“Every day they will need between 22 and 30 kilos of meat costing between 100 and 150 shekels (between $28 and $43),” he said.
They currently receive around 50 visitors a day, he said, with tickets on average costing two shekels (around $0.50).
Four Paws said footage it saw from the zoo was “very concerning.”
“The animals are not kept in species-appropriate conditions. They seem to be in bad conditions and urgently need medical attention and proper food,” it said.
An official from the Gaza agriculture ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there had been no coordination regarding the zoo’s reopening.
He said Gaza needed a large park meeting international standards.


Mumbai DJ swaps deck for doctor’s scrubs to fight coronavirus

Updated 28 May 2020

Mumbai DJ swaps deck for doctor’s scrubs to fight coronavirus

  • DJ Sanjay Meriya, known as The Spindoctor in Mumbai music circles, began work last month as a medical volunteer

MUMBAI: As India’s financial capital Mumbai battled a growing number of coronavirus cases, local DJ Sanjay Meriya set aside his turntable and dusted off a long-unused medical degree in order to help out.
Meriya, 30, known as The Spindoctor in Mumbai music circles, began work last month as a medical volunteer after spotting a government newspaper ad asking for help.
He has chiefly been visiting a slum in one of Mumbai’s worst-hit suburbs, clad in a protective suit and gloves, to instruct local residents about the precautions they should take to ward off the coronavirus.
“I’m very patriotic. I can battle this way (as a doctor),” Meriya, who signed up as a volunteer for at least three months, told Reuters.
Mumbai accounts for more than 32,000 of India’s 150,000 cases of the coronavirus, making it the worst-hit city. With government hospitals short of beds and health officials overworked, volunteers like Meriya are all the more important.
Meriya began to dabble in DJing as a hobby at around the age of 20 while studying for his medical degree, but said it then “took over me” — much to his family’s dismay.
“They hated it. They still hate it,” he said of his decision to devote himself to being a DJ.
Although worried about his potential exposure to the virus, Meriya’s family is thrilled to see him back in medicine.
“They now have a lot to share with all our relatives, if you know what I mean when it comes to Indian families,” he said.