Feature: Gaza's oldest zoo shuts down after animals transferred to sanctuaries in Jordan for better life

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GAZA, April 7 (Xinhua) -- Sadness overwhelmed Fathi Jomaa, a Palestinian from the Gaza Strip, as he paid farewell to 40 animals and birds he kept for years at his zoo in Rafah city, south of Gaza.

On Thursday, 40 malnourished and sick animals which have been suffering in barren cages were taken out of the Israeli-blockaded Gaza by Four Paws, an Austrian group which rescues animals.

A rescue mission from Four Paws rescued the animals from Rafah Zoo, the enclave's oldest park, and transferred them to new homes in a Jordanian sanctuary.

The zoo in Rafah made horrific headlines in 2019 after four lion cubs froze to death in January, then only weeks later, shocking footage of a lioness being declawed with garden shears went around the globe.

After negotiations, the zoo owner agreed to hand over the animals to Four Paws and a rescue team arrived in Gaza this week to transfer the animals safely to sanctuaries in Jordan.

Watching the animals leaving the park, Jomaa, stood motionless in sadness to have a final look at his old friends.

Jomaa said his zoo was hit by an Israeli bomb during the 2014 war on Gaza and a number of the animals and birds were killed in the attack.

He added that the number of visitors to the park has dropped dramatically due to the deteriorating economic and security conditions, making it difficult to run the zoo as he could not well afford to feed the animals.

The man, in his 50s, finally decided to abandon his 20-year-old project after Four Paws promised to provide homes for his animals.

"I hope no one would go through my experience. I have raised some of these animals for 20 years and I lost them in a sudden," he said, adding he decided to abandon them so they can have a better life.

Amir Khalil, Four Paws' veteran and head of mission, said his team had been unable to enter the Gaza Strip due to the recent military escalation in Gaza.

This led the charity to postpone the mission to rescue the animals, Khalil said, adding that Four Paws got help from local supporters who took care of the animals and provided them with food and water in recent days.

After the situation in the Gaza Strip slightly improved over the past weeks, the Four Paws team decided to go back to rescue the animals.

"We are at the zoo in Rafah city in southern Gaza Strip. This zoo has been facing many problems," Khalil told Xinhua.

He stressed that many animals died here due to weather and economic conditions as well as the military conflict between Israel and Palestinians.

"Keeping the zoo was a big burden for the owner ... it was also a major problem for predators as they lived in small cages," Khalil pointed out.

Ministry of Agriculture in Gaza said in a statement that it has approved the transfer of animals after Four Paws promised to establish a sanctuary in Gaza on an area of 100 acres.

In the Gaza Strip, which has no strong animal rights protection laws, there were six zoos, but five of them have shut down because of financial difficulties.

Zoos, parks and the beach are considered the only amusement places in the Gaza Strip, as its borders and the crossing points with Israel and Egypt are regularly closed.

The 2 million residents can barely travel through these crossing points for entertainment since the embargo was placed in 2007.

The living situation in the Gaza Strip has been deteriorating since Hamas militias' violent takeover of the enclave in 2007, following weeks of internal street fighting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' security forces and his Fatah Party.

In addition to the blockade, the Israeli army waged three large-scale military operations on Gaza, leaving hundreds of people dead. Many animals and birds were killed during these offensives. Enditem

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