Whatever your thoughts are on zoos, many of the world’s facilities continue to be a place of research, conservation, and great care for animals found in all corners of the world. This is no longer true for Taiz Zoo, a facility in city in Yemen that is fraught with war because of a battle over the Armored Brigade base.
While stories of refugees and how to help them circulate, the zoo animals left behind are often forgotten until it’s too late to save many of them. In early 2016, when the civil war broke out, the Yemeni government stopped paying zoo employees and abandoned the facility altogether, leaving its caged animals to somehow fend for themselves.
Thankfully, a rescue organization called SOS Zoo and Bear Rescue stepped in and started raising funds and getting people into the zoo to give the animals water everyday and feed them. The organization, run by Chantal Jonkergouw, helped for 10 months and stretched $125,000 dollars over that period of time to help the animals, but made the heart-wrenching decision to stop feeding the animals until the Yemeni government allowed their release. Jonkergouw told National Geographic,
“As they grow hungrier, the stronger ones might prey on the weaker ones. Especially the big cats. Stress also can have a very negative effect on the animals’ behavior. Personally, I think that most of them will lie down and die slowly.”
Since the organization was blacklisted by the government after pushing so hard for the release, they went from publicly staying away from the zoo for safety reasons to needing to pull back entirely. The animals starved for days until a local benefactor stepped in and started feeding the carnivores every 3 days and the herbivores as needed with nothing more than scraps and rotten produce. Another organization, A Lion’s Heart, took over the operation and the animals continue to have food and water but are unable to say how long that will last.
Unfortunately, starvation and malnutrition are not the only concerns when it comes to the animal’s well-being. Since the war broke out, the city has been under constant siege and just last month Saudi Air Forces dropped a bomb just a few hundred meters from the zoo. Shell fragments reached the zoo, and it’s not the only time that the bombs have gotten dangerously close to the helpless animals.
Many of the animals in the zoo are endangered, including Arabian leopards, of which there are only 80 left in the wild, and the Scimitar oryx, which has been extinct in the wild since 1999. The zoo has 28 Arabian leopards left, including 2 cubs that were just recently born and need extra nourishment to grow into strong adults. Before the SOS organization intervened last February, 11 lions and 6 leopards had already died of starvation. One of the male leopards had eaten its female companion.
This situation is extremely agonizing, as the Yemeni government refuses to sign permits and entertain two different offers from facilities in the UAE and Jordan, who wanted to extract and rescue the animals. The Yemeni government has claimed that the animals are fine and well-cared for and that they will not allow anyone to take the animals.
If you would like to help you can donate to A Lion’s Heart here and don’t forget to spread the word to raise awareness and incite action from the government.
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