Animal rights activists say the lion could have trouble with basic functions such as grabbing food and climbing.
A 14-month-old lioness was brutally declawed in a Gaza zoo drawing sharp criticism from animal rights activists all over the world. The owners of the zoo clipped her claws so she could play with visitors and thus increase visitors to the Rafah zoo. While many might liken it to clipping one's nails, paw project says it's more painful and is the equivalent of amputating a human's fingers up to the knuckle. The lioness named Falestine was sedated before the Palestinian veterinarian Fayyaz al-Haddad got to work and clipped her claws off using a pair of wire cutters and a pair of shears over the course of two weeks, reported RT.
“I'm trying to reduce the aggression of the lioness so it can be friendly with visitors,” said Mohammed Jumaa, 53, the park's owner, reported The Daily Mail. While the zoo authorities might downplay the act, animal charity Four Paws say the procedure could restrict the lion's activities from eating food and climbing. "Natural behavior, such as grabbing food or climbing, is hardly possible without an animal’s claws. Since the amputation was not done in a proper vet clinic, the chance of infection is high,” said Four Paws, before adding that the 'cruel procedure' was illegal in many countries. "Declawing may result in permanent lameness, arthritis, and other long-term complications. The practice, although common in the United States, is actually illegal in many countries,” The Paw Project noted.
It was also noted that Falestine still has a full set of teeth and her claws are likely to grow back within six months but it only means that the cruel procedure will have to be carried out again. The zoo is also located in a precarious area with constant fighting going on in the Gaza area. Many animals within the walls of Rafah zoo have succumbed to the fighting with rockets hitting the zoo. Rafah zoo was first opened in 1999 but was destroyed during an IDF bulldozing operation in 2004 before being rebuilt again in 2017.
The zoo came under a lot of fire after poor conditions led to four young lion cubs freezing to death in January. "We strongly demand the closure of this zoo, where over 40 more animals are being kept in horrible conditions," said Four Paws in 2019 when Falestine was declawed. Some of the other animals at the zoo include wolves, hyena, monkeys, exotic birds, and emus. Four Paws claimed that the animals are smuggled to and from Gaza through underground tunnels that connect to the zoo.
The veterinarian Fayyaz al-Haddad is unfazed by the criticism. "We want to bring smiles and happiness to children while increasing the number of visitors to the park, which suffers from high expenses. The claws were cut so that they would not grow fast and visitors and children could play with her," explained Haddad. He further defended his actions. "(The lioness) does not lose its innate nature. Lions will not give up their offensive instincts," he said. Despite being in pain the lioness played with zookeepers once released from her cage.
While Falestines' is a heartbreaking story, there are people fighting for the animals of Rafah zoo. Dr. Amir Khalil and his rescue team often drive to the zoo to help provide much-needed medication, vaccinations, and food, reported NPR. While Dr. Khalil might be a veterinarian, he went beyond his call of duty to help the animals at Rafah zoo. He had successfully brokered a deal with authorities from Jordan, Israel, and Hamas to shut down the Rafah zoo and evacuate the animals but the Israeli backtracked. Dr. Khalil travels regularly to provide help and care for the animals but traveling the war-torn region is not easy. "I have to confirm I'm not really for any party, not for any political gain. I'm just for animals," he says.