Gaza Zoo for sale – can’t afford to feed animals
The Gaza zoo briefly gained notoriety when several of its animals died of starvation during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead. The situation became so dangerous that the owners couldn’t reach the zoo during the campaign as it was too dangerous. The enterprising owners subsequently painted two donkeys to look like the zebras that had starved in that period.
Now the zoo is up for sale and the continued Israeli embargo on the Gaza means few visitors and the owners can’t afford to feed the animals. While there is some ‘Irving-esque’ dark humor in the story, it forms a tragic parody of what the Palestinians in the Gaza face as daily reality. The animals in the Gaza zoo are caged and starving, and the irony of that situation is poignant.
An emaciated lion, a hyperactive camel, and the only “zebra” in Palestine – this unusual assortment of animals could soon be yours. Mahra Land, a ramshackle zoo in Gaza, is now on the market.
The zoo made headlines last year when its owners engineered, not with genetics, but black paint, a pair of “zebras” out of two donkeys. TV reports showed delighted local children patting, slapping and even riding the docile if exotic looking creatures. The donkeys replaced two real zebras that starved to death during Israel’s three-week war on the Gaza Strip last year.
But six months after acquiring global stardom, one “zebra” has died, and the owners, no longer able to meet the costs of feeding their menagerie under Israel’s illegal economic siege of Gaza, are being forced to sell up.
In their darkened office – electricity cuts are a daily occurrence because Gaza’s power plant keeps running out of fuel – Mohammed Berghout and his brother Ahmed, the two young businessmen behind Mahra Land, are still bemused at how they transformed two white mules into respectable copies of beasts that may have roamed the African savannah.
“Ahmed had the idea to paint donkeys” Mohammed says. First they tried ordinary black paint but that didn’t work so well, then they mixed human hair dye in a plastic bowl and using masking tape to get the striped effect, applied it to their white coats.
The results were pretty convincing but even more so when it came to helping shed light on the desperation of Gazans under siege and the limited options for its children, many of whom have never been allowed to travel even as far as Israel or the West Bank, and whose entertainment is limited to the beach in summer, an outing to one of four dilapidated zoos or a walk around a British First World War cemetery.