The last tiger of Palestine

Pictures: Laziz confined to a small cage in a Gaza zoo (top), and post-rescue at the Lion’s ck Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa (bottom).

The Last Tiger of Palestine

This is the story of Laziz, a tiger who had the misfortune to be incarcerated in a crumbling zoo in Gaza. Originally from neighbouring Egypt, he was smuggled into Gaza as a cub, along with dozens of other exotic animals through the tunnels used by Hamas fighters to bring weapons, food, fuel, and medicines into Gaza, in response to the Israeli blockade of their small territory. They were brought in on the whim of a man who thought Palestinians would enjoy a distraction from their grim everyday lives through marvelling at a menagerie of wild animals. 

But the frequent bombings and food shortages, combined with a basic lack of animal care by the zoo owner, created a perfect storm of misery for Laziz and all the other animals at the Khan Younis Zoo. Laziz was fed mostly on chicken carcasses and rotten fruit - foodstuffs which gave him few of the nutrients he needed to thrive. He sat in his tiny cage day after day, teased by the children who came up close to his bars to throw nuts and stones at him. At night there was no cooling dip in a water bath - something that all tigers enjoy. He could not even view the stars in the clear sky overhead. Every day was the same monotonous circle of misery for him and the other animals.

Many of the animals died during periods of conflict between Gaza and Israel, particularly in 2014 when Israel launched mammoth retaliatory raids on Gaza in a bid to stop DIY rocket attacks onto its territory by Hamas militants pledged to its destruction. It was then that the plight of the surviving animals came to the attention of the international animal welfare charity Four Paws. In August 2016, in an operation dubbed Operation Noah's Ark, Four Paws rescued Laziz and 13 other creatures - the only survivors of a population that once numbered 65. Dr Amir Khalil, director of the rescue mission, explained:: "It was clear that this was a failing place. Food, medicine, basic care for the animals - everything was in short supply, and they were paying for it with their lives. After 2014 the health of these animals had been deteriorating rapidly, and Four Paws took the decision to rescue them. It has been an incredibly difficult, complex, and delicate operation, not least because of the situation Gaza finds itself in."

Most of the animals - deer, porcupines, a pelican, and tortoises among them - went to a wildlife sanctuary in neighbouring Jordan. But for Laziz, there was one more journey to take after the truck ride from Gaza to Israel. "He was sedated for a flight to South Africa, crated up, and flown out hours after he was rescued," said Four Paws director Ioana Dungler, 36, at Lion's Rock Big Cat Sanctuary, located 250 miles from Johannesburg. Once there, Laziz was soon delighting the rangers and vets who will care for him until he dies. 

"From the first moment of his arrival here we could see that he was a little bit special. We have many tigers here - rescued from terrible zoos and circuses in Europe and elsewhere - and we get to know them all. Laziz is fiercely intelligent. He was a little bit baffled at first, trading a home of 10 square metres or so for one that is 1,000 times greater in size, but all his instincts came back to him very quickly. He learned to jump, and he craned his head to hear the roar of the other tigers. He can rake his claws on tree trunks, as nature intended. Most of all, he is getting the food and care he needs. The kilos of beef he downs each week is dusted with a special nutritional powder to help build back muscle-mass that atrophied during his long years of incarceration."

Laziz will now live out his days on the veldt of South Africa with the sun on his back and the sights and sounds of 18 other freed tigers in spacious enclosures all around him. He is thought to be aged around nine now, and with the high-quality care and diet he is now receiving, he could perhaps live for up to 20 more years.

Sourced and adapted from article at MailOnline, UK.



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