A lion has been declawed by a Palestinian zoo so visitors can ‘play’ with the maimed animal, sparking outrage from animal welfare campaigners.
The 14-month old lioness, called Falestine, was manhandled by zoo keepers at the Rafah zoo in the Gaza strip who pushed her onto the ground and put a shroud over her head as a vet clipped off her claws with a pair of shears.
Falestine was tranquillised and placed on a table two weeks ago while the vet sewed up a horrific wound from her paw which oozed blood, before the claws were clipped down further on Tuesday.
Palestinian zoo workers man-handle the young lioness called Falestine at the Rafah Zoo in the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday
Palestinian veterinarian Fayyaz al-Haddad, holds the paw of the lioness Falestine as he cuts down her long claws with a pair of shears
Young Palestinian children look on at the adolescent lion, who has been touted as safe enough to play with them after a vet maimed her paws
The zoo in the war-battered Palestinian enclave is promoting itself as offering the chance to play with the lion, who has been declawed but still has a full set of teeth.
The lioness is supposed to be placid enough to meet visitors, despite animal rights campaigners saying human beings have subjected her to horrific pain.
‘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.
The vet takes hold of one of her paws, as one of the zoo workers pins her down and wraps he face in netting to stop her from biting
Two zoo workers carry the young lioness as the vet prepares to clip down her paws after a more significant operation two weeks ago
The Four Paws charity explained removing a lion’s claws is equivalent to amputating the fingers of a human up to the knuckle and without them the lion loses vital functions and dexterity
It is the latest unconventional animal care practice in Gaza, where a few dilapidated zoos compete for business.
Fayez al-Haddad, the veterinarian who operated on Falestine two weeks ago, watched her behaviour closely on Tuesday as she was briefly taken out of her cage to be near local residents, including children.
‘The claws were cut so that they would not grow fast and visitors and children could play with her,’ Haddad said.
The Rafah Zoo currently has five lions it keeps in filthy and deplorable conditions – the big cats are smuggled in through tunnels from neighbouring Egypt
A zoo keeper plays with Rafah on the floor – they claim the animal is placid enough to be around children – though the vet’s sedation may not have worn off in this picture
Fascinated children press against the fence of Falestine’s cage as she prowls around and bears a full set of fangs
There is no specialised animal hospital in Gaza so the operation was carried out at the zoo, which is filthy and lacks the proper facilities.
The vet denied that it was cruel to the animal.
‘We want to bring smiles and happiness to children, while increasing the number of visitors to the park, which suffers from high expenses.
‘(The lioness) does not lose its innate nature.’ He claimed.
Children watch as the animal – which is gripped tightly by the jaws using netting – has her claws lopped off by the vet
The vet Fayyaz al-Haddad claims the procedure is not painless for the majestic beast and said they wanted to bring ‘smiles and happiness’ to children
The vet grins as he prepares to use a vicious set of scissors on the animal as children press up against its cage in southern Gaza
But the Four Paws charity say the procedure is horrific and agonising for the lion.
Four Paws say: ‘For big cats, removing the claws is a particularly vicious procedure which causes long-lasting damage.
‘Natural behaviour, 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.’
The vet inspects the lion’s claws following the barbaric operation
They explained that removing a lion’s claws is the equivalent to amputating the fingers of a human up to the knuckle and without them the lion loses vital functions and dexterity.
The charity added that the zoo keeps around 50 animals in deplorable conditions and should be closed – four newborn lions recently froze to death there.
The small zoo in Rafah was opened in 1999 and is in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip, close to the border with Egypt.
From there, wild animals are repeatedly smuggled through underground tunnels to and from Gaza.
Currently, 49 animals – including five lions, a hyena, several monkeys, wolves, emus, cats, dogs and exotic birds – live in tiny and desolate cages there.
Since the opening of the zoo, many animals have already died due to rocket attacks and war battles.
It was destroyed during an Israeli army bulldozing operation in Rafah in 2004, before Jumaa re-established it two years ago.
A group of laughing children were watching from the other side of a low fence as Falestine was briefly shown out of her cage Tuesday for the first time since her operation.
She interacted and played with zoo keepers, though for now guests were kept slightly apart.
At times the lioness looked stressed, trying to scratch its nonexistent claws on a tree.
The 14-month-old lioness lies on the deck after the the procedure at the Rafah Zoo – four newborn lions recently froze to death at the zoo which keeps the animals in deplorable conditions
The zoo was destroyed during an Israeli army bulldozing operation in Rafah in 2004, before Jumaa re-established it two years ago
A Palestinian veterinarian holds down the head of lionness as she is being declawed at Rafah zoo in southern Gaza for visitors to be able to pet the animal
Lioness Falestine has her head pushed down into the dirt as she lies helplessly in the Gaza strip, far from her natural habitat
Twelve-year-old Anas Abdel Raheem insisted he wasn’t scared as he leaned on the fence.
‘I am happy because I played with the lion and it did not bite me or tear my clothes,’ he said.
‘My friends saw the pictures I posted on Facebook and WhatsApp.’
Haddad warned, however, that the claws grow back within six months: ‘Lions will not give up their offensive instincts.’
Gaza is home to two million Palestinians but has been blockaded by Israel for more than a decade.
In 2016, the last animals were evacuated from what had been dubbed ‘the world’s worst’ zoo, also in southern Gaza.