Last of Gaza's Zoo Animals Leave Strip for New Homes

Fifteen remaining animals cross into Israel to receive care in locations across the world.

A tiger named Laziz stands in its enclosure before it is taken out of Gaza by Four Paws International, at a zoo in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip August 23, 2016.
Ibraheem Abu Mustafa, Reuters

REUTERS - The last survivors of a Gaza zoo, where dozens of animals died of starvation and children petted stuffed carcasses, left on Wednesday for sanctuary outside the Palestinian territory.

Economic hardship deepened by war with Israel brought death to most of the menagerie of 200 at the privately owned complex in Khan Younis, in the southern part of the enclave.

A monkey looks out of a crate on a truck as it waits to leave Gaza after it was evacuated by Four Paws International, at Erez Crossing between Israel and northern Gaza Strip August 24, 2016.
Ibraheem Abu Mustafa, Rueters

The 15 remaining animals rescued by the Four Paws international animal welfare group included a tiger, porcupines, an emu and five monkeys. A baby deer that was to have made the journey died in "a desolate cage" last week, the organization said.

"'Worst zoo in the world' now history," Four Paws declared in a statement announcing the zoo's closure.

A tiger which was evacuated from a zoo in Khan Yunis is treated by members of the international non-government "Four Paws" organization and Israeli vets, near Tel Aviv, on August 24, 2016.
Menahem Kahana, AFP

Israel, which maintains tight restrictions on its border with Hamas Islamist-run Gaza, allowed the animals through the frontier and dubbed the transfer "Operation Safari."

Some were destined for new homes in sanctuaries in Israel and Jordan, and the tiger will be flown to Four Paws' Lionsrock Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa.

A member of Four Paws International team carries a pelican to be taken out of Gaza, at a zoo in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip August 23, 2016.
Ibraheem Abu Mustafa, Reuters

Four Paws said Gaza mission leader, veterinarian Amir Khalil, had now trained local colleagues in caring for wild animals.

"We hope they will use their gained know-how in the future to better help animals in need in Gaza," Khalil said.

In this Tuesday Aug. 23, 2016 photo, Romanian Loana Dungler examines a sedated deer as part of the preparations to transfer the animals from the zoo of Khan Younis out of Gaza Strip.
Khalil Hamra, AP

The zoo's owner, Mohammad Oweida, once hosted family and school outings at the facility. But a seven-week war between Israel and Palestinian militants in 2014 prevented him getting enough food for the animals, many of which had been smuggled to the Gaza Strip through tunnels from Egypt.

Oweida stuffed 15 of the animals that died, including a lion and a chimpanzee - and put them on display in what Gaza residents called the "Jungle of the South."

In this Wednesday Aug. 24, 2016 photo, animals in boxes loaded on a truck at the Palestinian side of Eriz checkpoint between Gaza and Israel are transferred out of the Gaza Strip.
Khalil Hamra, AP

"I have lived and worked nine years in this zoo. I was connected to the animals more than I was to people. Today I am forced to let them go so they can live better," Oweida, 26, told Reuters.

He said he will particularly miss eight-year-old tiger Laziz, whom he had raised since the animal was a cub.

"I feel as if my soul has been taken away," Oweida said.