After several attempts, international animal protection organisation FOUR PAWS has succeeded in its biggest coup to date: on April 7, the rescue team transferred 47 zoo animals out of the Gaza Strip.
The animals – including five lions, a hyena, several monkeys, wolves, porcupines, foxes, cats, dogs, emus, ostriches and squirrels – come from a neglected zoo in Rafah in the south of Gaza. The rescue mission was originally scheduled for the end of March but had to be postponed due to ongoing unrest in the region. FOUR PAWS brought most of the animals to Jordanian wildlife sanctuaries with two of the lions to fly on to South Africa today, April 8. There, they will live in species-appropriate enclosures in the FOUR PAWS big cat refuge LIONSROCK, receiving specialist veterinary care.
The largest FOUR PAWS rescue mission to date was preceded by several months of preparations and negotiations. Thanks to the support of all the authorities involved and the owner of the zoo, the mission now has been successfully completed. The FOUR PAWS team, consisting of veterinarians and wildlife experts, arrived in the Gaza Strip on April 4, spending almost four days on site to conclude final negotiations and prepare the logistics of such a large transfer. The mission was led by Dr Amir Khalil, who already evacuated two zoos in Gaza in 2014 and 2016.
“The intensive work of the last weeks has brought our team to its limits. To examine and load almost 50 animals in just a few days was a huge challenge. Thanks to the cooperation of all authorities, it was possible for us to bring the animals safely out of Gaza. From Israel to Palestine and Jordan, it was impressive to see how these three nations worked together for the animals from Rafah."
Dr Amir Khalil, FOUR PAWS veterinarian and Head of Mission
From Gaza via Israel to Jordan and South Africa
After FOUR PAWS loaded the animals into their transport crates on April 6, the almost 300-kilometre journey to Jordan started early the next morning. Another logistical challenge awaited the FOUR PAWS team at the Erez border crossing to Israel. Since the vehicles had to be changed, all crates were unloaded and loaded onto a new truck at the Israel-Gaza barrier.
Flanked by the Israeli army, the journey to the Jordanian border continued. In the late evening, FOUR PAWS arrived with the animals at the wildlife sanctuaries, about one hour away from Amman. In the course of today, the animals will be released into their new, species-appropriate enclosures. For the two older lions, however, the journey is not over yet. Today they fly on to South Africa, where they will find their final home in the FOUR PAWS big cat refuge, LIONSROCK.
International collaboration for the zoo animals from Rafah
In addition to working closely with the local authorities, American journalist and businessman Eric S. Margolis and the French animal welfare organisation 'Fondation 30 Millions d'Amis' supported the latest FOUR PAWS rescue mission with generous donations.
FOUR PAWS has been active in Gaza since 2014 and has already evacuated and closed down two zoos – Al-Bisan Zoo and Khan Younis Zoo – in the region. After the rescue of the Rafah zoo animals, there are only two more zoos left in the Gaza Strip.
“Overnight, our dedicated team achieved the impossible and managed to get the animals out of the Rafah zoo. Animals like the 14-month old lioness who was brutally declawed earlier this year, and whose story became a catalyst for this rescue. She, along with all the animals, will now receive the best possible care."
Jeroen van Kernebeek, FOUR PAWS Australia Country Director
FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them.
Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. FOUR PAWS’ sustainable campaigns and projects focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, animals in fashion, and wild animals – such as bears, big cats, orangutans and elephants – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones.
With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, Hungary, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in 12 countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. www.four-paws.org.au