In conflict zones worldwide, the impact on the ground is not solely faced by just human members of the community based locally… it also includes the plight of animals. And when we heard about two refugee lion cubs in Rafah in the southern part of the Gaza Strip we had to get one of our local producers to meet the family; for it is one of those stories that focuses your attention towards broader areas than just this story… including micro and macro economics, and the response of people during hardships, who at their core just want to live happy lives.
These two lion cubs had been sold to a local refugee family by the owner of Fat’hi Zoo in the Palestinian city of Rafah as they just couldn’t afford to keep them. Saad al-Jamaal and his family have adopted them and named the young cubs Mona and Alex (female and male) and they have been the talk of the town in what is the densely populated Al-Shabura refugee camp.
Locals say the cubs’ presence has elevated spirits in the camp — a welcome change for residents who have suffered through eight years of a crippling economic blockade and a seemingly endless cycle of war with Israel. The cubs have almost become a symbol of hope amongst the locals, pride even… and the al-Jamal family want to make this something that leads to positive things, despite the obvious concern for safety and welfare conveyed by everyone who hears about this.
The lion cubs have been with the al-Jamal family for just under 2 months and have been given their own bed to sleep in… they even play football at the family home in the war-torn Gaza Strip – but will have to be caged in the coming months for obvious, safety reasons.
The 54-year-old Grandfather told us that he bought the cubs from the impoverished Rafah zoo and the unorthodox pets have become an integral part of his family:
“They’re living inside the house just like the children. They eat and drink inside the room and they have a bed that they both sleep on. They will of course be moved to a larger area nearby at a park location where they will be kept in cages safely as they get older and bigger in the next few months.”
Rafah zoo owner, Mohammad Juma, said:
“Because of the amount of animals, the bad economical situation, lack of leisure activities and that you don’t have enough food or money… this (situation) would make you sell anything you have to save the rest of the animals!”
The Al-Jamal family might face a similarly tough situation in the near future as the cubs already require much meat daily as well as currently drinking over 2 litres of milk each day.
Al-Jamal said that he knew the cubs would eventually become dangerous and so has already planned for them to be moved to cages in a nearby location:
“In the future I plan to put them in the Japanese park of Rafah where we will prepare cages for the cubs and maybe they will also reproduce. These are rare animals, not seen in Palestine and as there are no amusement parks here where our children can enjoy themselves, this will be for them!” he said.
Most of the zoo animals in Gaza have been hauled into the isolated territory through smuggling tunnels linking the territory to Egypt but in this case, Mona and Alex are looking to be staying locally in the region if all goes well for them. There are natural concerns, but if the Al Jamal family make it work, this could be testament to how much they want to make where they live a good place for everyone.
We are hoping an international animal welfare charity is able to get involved to provide much needed professional support or intervention in this case too and we will be providing updates via our Facebook and Twitter page as we try and stay in touch with the family.
Special thanks to Yazan and Malak based in Gaza.
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