Two lion cubs have been given a new lease on life after being rescued from a refugee camp in the war-torn Gaza Strip.
After spending the first two weeks of their lives in the Rafah Zoo, which had been damaged by airstrikes and was struggling financially, the cubs were bought by Gaza resident Saad Aldeen Al-Jamal because he felt sorry for them and wanted to provide a better home. The 54-year-old refugee brought the furry siblings back to his flat, where they became a part of the family and playmates to Al-Jamal's six grandchildren.
Gradually, however, the cubs started to pose a financial burden to the household, as they grew bigger and needed to consume more and more meat every day. Soon, they would also have to be confined for the safety of their owners. Luckily, animal welfare group Four Paws was able to arrange for the lions' recent release in a rescue spearheaded by veterinarian Amir Khalil.
“It was very hard for the father of the family, who bought the lion cubs from Rafah zoo in March, to say goodbye, but we are very happy that he finally sees reason,” Khalil said in a statement. “A small flat is not an appropriate place for wild animals and they pose a danger to all humans in their surroundings.”
The exotic cats, renamed “Shalom” and “Salaam” to symbolize the rescuers' hope for peace in the region, successfully traveled from Gaza to Israel to Jordan after unexpected border closures and negotiations with the Hamas. The young lions, oblivious to the turmoil surrounding them, clung tightly to each other and cuddled throughout the entire journey.
Although Shalom and Salaam are currently being treated for skin disease and swelling on the back of the head likely from a stroke, the 5-month-old cubs are doing well in a quarantine center in Jordan. In the fall, they will be transported to the Al Ma'wa Wildlife Sanctuary, where they can happily begin a new life.
All images by Tom Benda / Four Paws