Gaza’s only tiger is malnourished.
To be properly fed, it needs a regular supply of fresh meat. Providing that supply is proving too costly for Muhammad Oweida, the owner of the zoo in Khan Younis, a town in southern Gaza. As a result, Oweida has put the tiger and a number of other animals up for sale.
Opened in 2007, the zoo became a popular destination for school trips and family excursions. The tiger was brought to the zoo that year. Born in Australia, it was two months old at the time.
Today, however, the zoo often has no visitors and the cages for its animals look rusted and desolate.
Along with the tiger, its few remaining animals include monkeys and tortoises.
The siege and repeated attacks that Israel has inflicted on Gaza have proven devastating for the zoo.
The problems were especially severe when Israel bombed Gaza for 51 days in the summer of 2014.
During the attack, it was too dangerous for Oweida to care for his animals.
“They were also frightened by the deafening sounds of explosions that took place in areas close to the zoo,” he said. “The Israelis wage their war on nearly all facets of normal life in Gaza, even when it comes to poor animals.”
Among the animals which died during that offensive were hyenas, crocodiles, deer and a lion. The tiger’s female partner also died.
“When I first came to the zoo after the war, I was shocked to see that many of my animals had died inside their cages,” Oweida said. “The smell was overpowering.”
As a testament to Israel’s destruction, Oweida stuffed the animals’ bodies in order to preserve them. He then put the dead animals on display in the middle of the zoo.
“I got many of my animals by smuggling them through the tunnels,” he said. Their closure has left him unable to replace the animals which died.
Despite his decision to sell off his animals, Oweida is appealing for foreign aid in order to save the zoo. “All I want is to save the animals’ lives,” he said.
While many science classes used to take place inside the zoo, Oweida can understand why it is no longer an attractive destination for school trips.
“There is nothing to write home about here now,” he said.
One man, Saad al-Jamal, has nonetheless kept visiting the zoo as he is deeply interested in wild animals.
Al-Jamal would like to buy the tiger and is contemplating selling his house in order to raise the $30,000 asking price for the animal.
“I have the skill to take care of this tiger,” said al-Jamal, who previously raised two lion cubs.
“It is the last tiger in Gaza and we should not lose it.”
Text by Isra Saleh el-Namey and photographs by Majdi Fathi.
Isra Saleh el-Namey is a journalist from Gaza.
Majdi Fathi is a photographer from Gaza City.