With no funds, no zookeeper, and few animals, the Khan Yunis Zoo in the Gaza Strip has turned to an internet embalming course to fill its cages with botched and mangy versions of what once was.
Resembling a grim zoological nightmare, live animals are kept alongside ex-neighbours such as a squalid lion that starved to death in 2009, a monkey missing one eye, and a porcupine with a hole in its head from a muddled mummification attempt.
The living residents, which include an ostrich, a tiger and a deer, are lying in makeshift cages constructed from shipping crates and remnants of an old Israeli settlement, which are littered with lolly wrappers.
The zoo owner, Mohamed Awaida, says he lost several of his star attractions during Israel’s 2009 incursion into Palestinian territory. Having to abandon the zoo, Mr Awaida says the now stuffed lion and monkey died from starvation.
He says the idea to mummify animals came after the Gaza War, when a lot of animals met their demise. “So we asked around and we learn’t from the web how to start”.
Having zero veterinary training and the equivalent in funds, Mr Awaida says he had little choice, and that ‘the show must go on’.
Merely the latest attempt to instill pride amidst disaster, Mr Awaida has followed other Gaza zoos in avoiding to pay for the importation of live animals. In 2009, a zoo in Gaza City attempted to replace two zebras killed in an Israeli offensive by painting a donkey with dark fat stripes.
One of the few public attractions in this beleaguered region, Khan Yunis Zoo is forced to treat its sick animals over the phone.
It’s the wasteland for animals, a macabre prison where the café is often closed. It’s also setting the benchmark in animal attractions – a zoo that’s slowly morphing into an outdoor museum.