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Lion cubs relocated from impoverished Gaza to Jordan

Gaza's largest zoo still reeling from Israeli offensive that killed 80 animals
A lion cub is transferred from the Gaza Strip's Bisan zoo to Jordan through the Erez crossing with Israel (FOUR PAWS/Tom Benda)

Two lions cubs were on Sunday taken from a Gaza Strip refugee camp to Jordan, their former owner said, after their maintenance became too great a financial burden.

"We're very sad. The two lions were like children to us," Saadi Jamal said of the five-month-old male and female big cats named Max and Mona.

Jamal, a Palestinian Authority security employee who lives in the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza and is a father to six, had planned to make some money by leasing the lions out to amusement parks, seaside resorts and restaurants.

International animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS has successfully transferred the two Gaza lions cubs to a rescue centre in Jordan (FOUR PAWS / Tom Benda)

Feeding them cost Jamal about 120 shekels ($32) a day, he told AFP, a tall order in Israeli-blockaded Gaza where prices have soared since a devastating war last summer with the Jewish state.

He also failed to convince the Hamas rulers of the Palestinian enclave to provide him land on which he could establish a zoo for the lions and other animals.

Jamal said he was giving the animals to the Jordanian sanctuary for free.

British animal welfare group Four Paws, which facilitated the move, said last month it was seeking to rescue the cubs from their "hugely inappropriate situation" in which they were growing to be a threat to their surroundings.

“It was very hard for the father of the family, who bought the lion cubs from Rafah zoo in March, to say goodbye, but we are very happy that he finally sees reason," said Dr Amir Khalil, who oversaw the transfer of the lions to Jordan.

"A small flat is not an appropriate place for wild animals and they pose a danger to all humans in their surroundings.” 

COGAT, the Israeli defence ministry unit that coordinates with Gaza, announced on Sunday it had coordinated the transfer of Max and Mona to Jordan through Israel.

In September, Four Paws facilitated the transfer of three lions from Al-Bisan zoo in Gaza to Jordan after the zoo came under heavy fire during the 50-day conflict which ended on 26 August.

Four Paws said Max and Mona's parents were most likely smuggled into Gaza by underground tunnels from Egypt. It estimated there were currently 40 big cats in Gaza.

Jamal said he had asked Four Paws to help him visit Max and Mona in Jordan.

A rescue action such as the one for the Gaza lion cubs involves extensive effort and accumulates high costs (FOUR PAWS | Tom Benda)

Lions are said to have been smuggled to Rafah Zoo as cubs, by underground tunnels from Egypt into Gaza. However, military conflict last year saw the Egyptian army destroy many of the tunnels (FOUR PAWS | Tom Benda)

Although Gaza is small, there are around 40 big cats there. Smuggling of exotic animals is a major problem (FOUR PAWS | Tom Benda)