Sentenced To Death At The World’s Most Lousy Zoo: The Gaza Conflict

An emaciated body of a lion decays in the sun, while flies buzz around it. Not far away the mummified corpse baboon lies on the ground — it’s head still tilted up as if looking out of its enclosure, across from it a porcupine’s fragile spines jut out from its lifeless body.


There are tons of animals which have died at Khan Younis zoo in the poverty-stricken Gaza Strip, after they were left without food. According to zoo owner Mohammed Awaida the culprit behind this tragedy is the Palestinian and Israeli conflict(gaza conflict). He said his staff were unable to feed or care properly for the animals at the zoo, so they died.

Mr Awaida explained that ‘South Forest Park’ was opened in 2007, and during Israel’s military offensive against Hamas that commenced in December 2008 – they lost a number of animals.

The offensive lasted three-weeks, Awaida said and in that period he could not reach the zoo, and many animals died of neglect and starvation. And it seems that history is trying to repeat itself. Last summer the fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants escalated causing death of more than 1,960 Palestinians, while 67 people died on the Israeli side.


Once again the staff couldn’t reach the zoo, & animals died of neglect and starvation. One of the casualties included a little monkey, who died in its enclosure-  its teeth still clenched together. In a second enclosure — a Palestinian zoo worker found remnants of a crocodile.


Gaza Strip is a densely populated coastal enclave of 1.7million people ruled by Islamic Hamas militants. Khan Younis is one of the five zoos located in Gaza Strip. As no government body in Gaza oversees the zoos, and there’s no animal rights movement in the region, so the Khan Younis facility is virtually unsupervised. The premises are sans a zookeeper while medical treatment is carried out via consultation over the phone with zoo veterinarians in Egypt.


As per tradition at the zoo – the animals which die are stuffed and embalmed — then are returned to their enclosures. The center had ten mummified animals on display in makeshift exhibits — fashioned from fencing salvaged from Jewish settlements that Israel dismantled in 2005. However, owing to on-going deaths of animals which includes ostriches, monkeys, turtles, deer, a llama, a lion and a tiger, there’s a risk that the numbers of dead animals may exceed, the ones which are living.


Mr Awaida started utilizing his taxidermy skills on deceased animals at the zoo after the Gaza war commenced. ‘The idea to mummify animals started after the Gaza war because a number of animals like the lion, the tiger, monkeys and crocodiles died,’ he said previously.


So we asked around and we learned from the Web how to start.’ Formaldehyde and sawdust provided the basic tools, whilst Awaida admitted he was no expert. It’s simply impossible that a hole in the porcupine’s head goes unnoticed.

Gazaconflict9Gaza’s zoos are resorting to odd ways to survive —- in 2009, a zoo in Gaza City exhibited white donkeys painted with black stripes to look like zebras, as it was very costly to replace two zebras who were neglected during the Israeli offensive.

Gazaconflict10In the West Bank city of Qalqilya, zoo veterinarian Sami Khader, prompted by death of a giraffe named Brownie, turned to taxidermy. It happened nine years back when the animal died during the second Palestinian uprising against Israel. Hassan Azzam, director of the veterinary services department in Gaza’s ministry of agriculture, said: ‘We have humble capabilities,’ but the ministry encourages zoos.

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