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article imageOp-Ed: Gaza family rescues lion cubs after zoo is destroyed

By Megan Hamilton     Apr 12, 2015 in World
Palestine - When Israeli air strikes devastated Gaza in 2014, the Rafah Zoo, located in the southern Gaza Strip, was also a casualty of war, struggling to recover from physical damage and the resulting economic freefall.
Many of the animals didn't survive, and those that did faced cruel conditions and malnourishment. Nearby, the Fathi Zoo suffered a similar fate. Saad Al-Jamal, who is from Palestine, purchased lion cubs Max and Mona from the Rafah Zoo, thus rescuing them. While Max and Mona are safe right now, Al-Jamal said he realizes that living among humans, the cubs will soon become dangerous to the family and will have to be relocated, Mashable reports.
He hopes to raise the cubs and encourage them to have babies so that a lion cub petting zoo could open in the region, Metro reports.
"They're living inside the house just like the children," Al-Jamal said. "They eat and drink inside the room and they have a bed that they both sleep on."
He added:
"They will of course be moved to a larger area nearby at a park location where they will be kept in cages safely as they get older."
Mohammad Juma, owner of the Rafah Zoo, said the economic situation has forced some desperate measures.
"Because of the amount of animals, the bad economical situation, lack of leisure activities and that you don't have enough food or money ... this (situation) would make you sell anything you have to save the rest of the animals!"
Many of Gaza's zoo animals were smuggled via tunnels that link the territory to Egypt, Global News reports. In 2013, two newborn lion cubs that were proudly unveiled by Hamas rulers in Gaza, died shortly after.
Max and Mona  the refugee lion cubs of Rafah in Gaza.
Max and Mona, the refugee lion cubs of Rafah in Gaza.
Screengrab via TIG Media
While desperate circumstances forced the relocation of little Mona and Max, lions do not fare well when being kept as exotic pets.
Unfortunately, it's become hugely popular for people who love exotic pets to keep lions, tigers, and other big cats, The Humane Society of The United States (HSUS) reports. Estimates say that there are 5,000 to 7,000 tigers in the U.S., yet less than 400 of them are in zoos that are accredited by the association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Even if born in captivity and hand-raised, lions and other big cats keep their predatory instincts, and they injure and kill people all the time. There have been hundreds of attacks on humans by big cats in the U.S. over the past two decades, as this report compiled by the HSUS notes.
All of these cases are gut-wrenching, but none of them more so than the horrific tragedy that occurred in Zanesville, Ohio in 2011.
Owner Terry Thompson opened all of the enclosures and fences at his farm and then killed himself, according to the report. Fifty animals escaped and the sheriff's office told residents to stay in their homes and it was recommended that schools close. A sign warned motorists on the local interstate to stay in their cars. In the resulting melee, 48 animals were shot and killed by sheriff's deputies; including two wolves, six black bears, two grizzly bears, 18 tigers, three mountain lions, and 17 African lions. The big cats killed a baboon and a macaque monkey who was also released has never been found. It's assumed to have been killed and eaten by the cats. The Columbus Zoo took in three leopards, a grizzly bear and two monkeys. It's reported that Thompson was recently released from prison after serving a one-year term on weapons-related charges.
All these magnificent creatures dead. Just like that. How horribly sad.
In the wild, big cats roam over vast distances, and no cage is ever adequate enough to promote the health and well-being of these beautiful creatures and they suffer immensely in captivity, the HSUS reports. Allowing everyday citizens to own these cats poses unnecessary risks to the public, and to the cats themselves.
It is certainly admirable that Al-Jamal and his family are caring for these adorable cubs, but what's going to happen when they turn into frustrated and caged adult lions in a war-torn civilization?
The African lion is nothing short of iconic, but in the wild, their numbers are plunging downward, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reports. Key lion populations are found In protected areas in Botswana, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia. With only 30,000 to 35,000 living in the wild today, their numbers have dropped by 30 percent in the last 20 years, the WWF reports. Even in the aforementioned protected areas, their populations have declined by more than 40 percent. These big cats are seriously vulnerable to habitat loss and conflict with people, and the problem is intensifying.
Land is being cleared for agriculture, and that's destroying and fragmenting habitat for lions. It's also reducing the numbers of their natural prey, the WWF reports. So lion populations are becoming small and isolated, and introducing them to a number of threats.
Lions who live outside of the protected areas are likelier to prey on livestock, especially if their natural prey is in short supply. Local farmers often retaliate if their herds or livelihoods are impacted by lions. The area's human population is increasing, taking up more land for livestock and agriculture, so the problem is worsening. Conflict with humans is now one of the biggest threats to African lions.
A handsome pair of male and female Asiatic lions.
A handsome pair of male and female Asiatic lions.
By Altaileopard (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
African and Asiatic lions are subspecies of the species Panthera leo. The Asiatic lion, (Panthera leo persica) is not faring any better and is perilously close to extinction, having once ranged throughout the Mediterranean to India, and covering most of western Asia, where it was also known as the Persian lion.
Living now in the small Gir Forest National Reserve in India's Gujarat State, the population of these marvelous cats once dropped as low as just 13 individuals in 1907 due to years of persecution by trophy hunters, World Lion Day reports. After hunting was banned, their population increased to 185 lions in 1975. Since then, it has increased to around 411 lions today. Plus, their population range has expanded into the nearby Girnar Forest, and that has increased their habitat from 1,883km2 to around 10,0000km2.
However, Asiatic lions still face the daunting threats of habitat loss, prey loss, poaching, conflict with humans, inbreeding, and disease. Their populations are small enough, in fact, that a natural environmental disaster--the outbreak of a single epidemic disease, a severe drought, or a large bush fire could bring about their extinction.
While some positive gains have been made in favor of Asian lions, the fight to save these big cats is far from over, and I have to really wonder what the future will be for all wild lions.
Will all of them eventually wind up caged like Max and Mona, or will they wind up crammed into the tiniest parts of the world's last remaining wild lands? Or — will they be relegated to the pages of books on extinct animals?
I hope I never find out the answers to these questions.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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