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Starvation and disease in a Gaza zoo has left its enclosures littered with the mummified corpses of tigers and lions.
Currently home to about 40 animals, the privately-run Khan Younis Zoo in South Gaza has seen virtually no visitors in the past year.
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Gaza is experiencing an especially harsh winter with heavy rainfalls, which takes a lot out of the weakened and hungry animals, who have been left without food or medical attention amid the ongoing conflict in the territory.
It is estimated that last summer there were 40 big cats at the zoo. Now there are just 15.
As well as an emaciated tiger that was fed frozen chicken, if at all, for weeks, there are leopards, apes, foxes, porcupines, eagles and a range of other birds.
On Sunday, animal protection organisation, FOUR PAWS, was finally able to reach the zoo to deliver enough animal feed for the next four weeks. Urgently-needed medical supplies were also delivered.
In April last year, the charity's emergency team carried out a relief operation to provide medical treatment and food to the animals there at the time.
Dr Amir Khalil, who organised the feed distribution from Jordan, said that the situation had worsened since the charity's last mission.
With a land mass of just 45 km², Gaza is relatively small.
Entry and exit to the area is very strictly regulated, making the task of the animal welfare workers particularly challenging.
There are six zoos in Gaza. FOUR PAWS said that most exotic animals were once smuggled from Egypt to Gaza via underground tunnels.
Dr Khalil said: “The new feed supply was urgently needed, but it is still only a small drop in the ocean. FOUR PAWS will continue to work on a sustainable solution for all wild animals in Gaza. But for this reason, all affected authorities in Gaza and Israel as well as the owners of the animals need to cooperate.”
In the coming days, FOUR PAWS is planning to also supply much-needed food and medicine to another desperate zoo in Gaza, Rafah Zoo, which is also inhabited by four lions.
Dr Khalil added: “We would like to help all zoo animals, but we only have limited resources. We have already started an international call for donations and are urgently asking for support.”
In September 2014 FOUR PAWS carried out an emergency mission in the heavily-damaged Al-Bisan Zoo in the north of the Gaza Strip, and three lions were also transferred to New Hope Centre in Jordan.
In September 2015 FOUR PAWS finally transferred two lion cubs from a refugee camp. A father-of-six living in the camp had bought the cubs from Rafah Zoo as “pets”.
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