Twin lion cubs born in a Gaza Strip zoo this week to much fanfare died Thursday, according to authorities.
Mohammad Abdel-Rahman, acting manager of the zoo in Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza, said the cubs died of an unspecified illness. He said the zoo’s staff was unable to save them because they lacked experience in caring for newborn lions.
The cubs struggled from the outset, the Guardian reported. They were not feeding well, and their father displayed aggression toward them.
Zoo staff reached out to an Egyptian zoo in an attempt to procure food and equipment, but restrictions at the Egypt-Gaza border prevented the aid from coming through, a Gaza veterinarian told the Guardian.
A six-year-old lioness brought in from Egypt into Gaza through smuggling tunnels gave birth to the cubs Monday at the Bissan amusement park in Beit Lahiya. The father was also spirited in through the tunnels four years ago.
The two cubs were immediately given names reflecting the publicity needs of the Hamas government that has ruled the coastal strip since 2007. The male cub was dubbed Fajr, the name of a missile fired at Israeli towns repeatedly in recent years, and lioness was named Sejeel, the name Hamas gave to an offensive against rocket launchers in the Strip launched by Israel last November — which the IDF dubbed Operation Pillar of Defense. Over the course of eight days, Israel’s air force carried out 1,500 strikes against Hamas installations and other targets, and Hamas fired over 1,000 rockets into Israel.
— Alqassam Brigades (@AlqassamBrigade) November 19, 2013
This week marks the one-year anniversary of the flare-up.
Fajr also means “dawn” in Arabic, and Sejeel means “baked clay,” a reference to the 105th sura of the Quran, which is understood to refer to a thwarted attack on Mecca by Christian invaders.
“Despite Israel’s unjust siege,” Hamas’s al-Qassam Brigades tweeted, “Palestinians managed to smuggle these 2 lions to draw a smile on faces of Gaza kids.”
Gaza zoos have a spotty animal welfare record, and have resorted to odd ways to get by amid the territory’s multiple woes. In 2009, a zoo in Gaza City exhibited white donkeys painted with black stripes to look like zebras because it was too expensive to replace two zebras who were neglected during fighting with Israel.
Animals who die in the dilapidated Khan Younis zoo return to be displayed as stuffed creatures, giving visitors the unusual zoo experience of petting a lion, tiger or crocodile.
Gaza has no government body that oversees its five zoos, and the animals’ medical care is done by consulting over the phone with zoo veterinarians in Egypt.