GAZA: Large paintings of a bear, an elephant and a giraffe decorate the outer walls of NAMA Zoo in Gaza City, but none of these wild creatures is represented live among those caged inside.
Six years ago, the lone tiger died, and despite visitors’ frequent demands for a replacement, the owners have not been able to afford to buy or feed a new one.
There were once six zoos in Gaza, a narrow coastal enclave which has been closed off behind security walls since 2007.
But with the economy crippled by a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt, two of the zoos have closed.
“Because of the lack of resources and capabilities and the high prices of animals it is difficult to replace an animal you lose,” said Mahmoud Al-Sultan, the medical supervisor of the NAMA zoo.
The original animals at the zoo were smuggled through tunnels from Egypt over a decade ago.
As well as four pairs of lions, each of which goes through 60 kg of meat a week, the zoo has crocodiles, hyenas, foxes, deer and monkeys, as well as a lone ibex and a solitary wolf.
At the lions’ cages, children stand to take pictures from a distance and giggle as they touch the bars on the cages of deer and birds.
A ticket costs less than $1 because people can’t afford more, Sultan said.
“I come here to have some fun, but I see the same animals every time,” said nine-year-old Fouad Saleh. “I wish I could see an elephant, a giraffe or a tiger.”
For the moment, that appears unlikely. Gaza lacks the medical facilities to treat animals like lions and tigers.
In the past, the Four Paws international animal welfare group has had to rescue animals and find them new homes in Israel, Jordan or as far away as South Africa.
“We struggle to afford the food,” said Sultan. “Sometimes we provide frozen food, chicken, turkeys, and sometimes if a donkey is injured we have it slaughtered and shared out between the lions.”