Animals in Gaza zoo no safer than humans from Israeli bombardment

Some animals are dead, others in wrecked cages after Israeli attack

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 August, 2014, 7:20am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 August, 2014, 11:13am


The lions sat dazed in the shade of their damaged pen, while nearby the decayed carcasses of two vervet monkeys lay contorted on the grass of a Gaza zoo.

The animals were caught in the crossfire in more than a month of fighting between Israel and Palestinians that killed more than 1,960 Palestinians and 67 people on the Israeli side.

In one enclosure at the zoo a fly-covered pelican huddled in the corner with a duck. Opposite, a small crocodile sat motionless in a couple of centimetres of stagnant water, next to the rotting corpse of a stork.

A gazelle shared another pen with a goose.

Watch: Gaza's animals caught in the cross fire

Around the corner, a baboon picked listlessly at the ground of the tiny pen it shared with the dried-out remains of another monkey.

Everywhere, there was a sickly stench from the animals' cages, which had not been cleaned for weeks.

Shadi Hamad, the park's director, said the zoo was damaged and the animals died as a result of Israeli air strikes.

An Israeli army spokesman said the military was looking into allegations that it fired missiles into the Al-Bisan park area.

Israel launched an air campaign over Gaza on July 8 to take out militants' rockets, followed by a ground offensive nine days later to destroy a network of Hamas cross-border tunnels leading into Israel.

The zoo is part of Al-Bisan, built by the Hamas government in 2008 as a tourist village to give Gazans some relief from the hardships of life in the Strip.

The animals were all smuggled through tunnels that connected Egypt to Gaza, before the passages were shut last year.

Now, Al-Bisan is far from relaxing, with the wire of its enclosures twisted and crushed, debris and dead animals strewn around, and the remains of rocket launchers lying nearby.

"Before the war the area was very beautiful. It was an area for children, there were playgrounds and areas for families," zookeeper Farid al-Hissi said.

Hissi got his job at Al-Bisan after working in a zoo in Israel and because of his love for animals. The death of the animals he cared for has clearly left him in a state of shock.

"Eight monkeys were killed, and an ostrich was killed too. The lion's enclosure was wrecked and the zoo was completely destroyed. The Al-Bisan zoo was totally devastated," he said.

The administrative centre has been flattened and some of the palm trees lining the avenue from the entrance down to the animal enclosures have been uprooted.

"You can see that the cages for the animals are badly damaged. When you see it, it makes you sad because they are in a jail now," he said, standing by the lion enclosure.

Hissi was insistent there had been no militant weapons inside the zoo.

But buckled rectangular metal rocket-launch systems lay among the debris on the edge of the park, near a large building that was also hit by Israeli air strikes. Some appeared still to be loaded with rockets.

Hamad, the park's director, was adamant that the rockets had not been fired from inside the park.

"Maybe there was a base around Al-Bisan village or next to it. But the enemy decided and insisted on punishing Al-Bisan village," said the director.

"They punished the park for the presence of the rockets nearby but not inside the village," he said.