Animals are reportedly dying of starvation and disease in zoos throughout the Gaza Strip.
Six zoos in the region, mostly private business ventures, are unable to feed or care for their animals due to worsening levels of war and poverty, Associated Press reports.
“People have a hard time finding food, much less the animals,” Mohammed Ouida, the owner of South Jungle Zoo, told AP. Many of his animals have died over the past several years, and about half of the 20 that remain are severely ill.
The conditions in Gaza’s zoos are the result of years of sustained conflict, compounded by harsh winters, lack of infrastructure, and neglect on the part of many government officials. Since 2007, when the Islamic militant group Hamas took over the Gaza Strip, blockades by Israel to the East and Egypt to the South have made it difficult to transport food and veterinary care into the region, Metro News notes.
Conditions worsened when, in 2014, the latest bout of conflict broke out between Hamas and its sworn enemy in the region, Israel. Hamas, like other groups in the Palestinian territories, resented Israel’s occupation of its lands and demanded that Israeli authorities lift the blockade of Gaza, which prevented many essential goods such as food and medicine from getting through, BBC reported at the time. Israel refused, citing reasons of national security; it considers Hamas a terrorist organization, and demanded the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip for any peace talks to go through.
Although a ceasefire was eventually agreed upon, conflict in the region has continued -- which has led to worsening conditions for the animals in Gaza’s zoos. Of the territory’s 1.8 million people, 43 percent are unemployed, Metro News reports. In addition, Hamas is unable to pay the salaries of many of its 40,000 employees, according to AP. Ouida, who used to employ 30 people at South Jungle Zoo, said that only two of them still return to work there.
In Al-Bisan Zoo, built by Hamas in northern Gaza, more than 80 animals and birds died during 50 days of war in 2014. Some charities, such as Four Paws International, are operating in the region to rescue animals experiencing neglect and starvation.