Reporting on Gaza zoo ignores affected Israeli animals

Zebras at the Ramat Gan Safari near Tel Aviv. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

This week, a number of outlets have reported about the danger faced by animals at the Gaza zoo during the Israel-Hamas conflict. But as Hamas breaks cease-fire after cease-fire and the conflict persists, animals on the Israeli side of the border are also affected, in some cases severely.

Just as the human casualties in Gaza are higher due to Israel’s investment in the Iron Dome system, which prevents most Hamas rockets from landing in Israel, animals too are more affected by the conflict on the Gaza side. But animals, much like people, are often the casualties of war on either side of a conflict.

Unlike humans, in Israel wild, farm, and stray animals do not have bomb shelters to turn to when an alarm sounds. Despite the Iron Dome, some rockets are not being intercepted and fall in open areas. While those open areas might not have people, animals may be present there. 

In some cases, the rockets are able to hit more serious targets. For instance, in early July, when Operation Protective Edge was just getting underway, a rocket hit a cow shed in the Be'er Tuvia Regional Council, causing severe damage and killing 11 cows. Later in the month an owl was injured from rocket shrapnel and was brought to a veterinary clinic for treatment. The owl eventually died.

Tnu LaChayot Lichyot, an Israeli association for the protection of animals, and other similar groups, has been working to assist and remove stray dogs and cats, especially in the south.

“Animals have strong sense and they are frightened not only by the (rocket) alarms but by the strong explosion noises, all that in addition to the existential challenges without safe shelter or food,” Yael Arkin, the CEO of the association, told Yedioth Ahronoth earlier this month, as translated from Hebrew.

A spokesperson for the Ramat Gan Safari near Tel Aviv told in an email that although the suffering of the Israeli safari animals is not comparable to the suffering of the animals in Gaza due to the nature of this conflict, some animals like monkeys get very frightened by the alarms, and the lions run into their night houses. At the safari's animal hospital, many animals also get agitated by the alarms.  

One heartwarming incident was particularly notable. During the initial rocket alarms in central Israel, the safari’s elephants were seen gathering around the baby elephants in order to protect them. They even called over an elephant that was previously considered inferior by the pack to join them.

At the Negev Zoo in Beersheba, “animal injuries [from rockets] have not been documented thus far” even though several grad rockets did fall in the area, many of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome. This “led to the falling of many shrapnel pieces all over the zoo, including on animal exhibits,” Ziv Reshef, the zoo’s director, told in an email translated from Hebrew.

When the alarms sound and zoo workers must enter shelters, “we cannot do very much because we have one minute of notice in the best scenario and this is barely enough for us to seek shelter, so all we can do is pray that nothing falls on the zoo because the damage could be catastrophic,” he said.

Regarding the situation at the Gaza zoo, Israeli sources told CNN that there may have been several Hamas rocket-launchers near the zoo. CNN’s journalists saw “several charred and mangled metal cases that looked like destroyed rocket batteries.”

Hamas has also reportedly mistreated some of its own animals. The IDF said in mid-July that terrorists in Gaza approached Israeli soldiers on a donkey wired with explosives, which then exploded. 

Posted on August 21, 2014 .