More than 40 animals, including lions, monkeys, ostriches, peacocks and a hyena left Gaza for Jordan on Sunday after being rescued from a zoo in which many animals died of hunger and lack of care.
Thin and weakened, the 43 animals lived in "terrible conditions", said the association Four Paws, which organized the transfer.
The animals were stable enough to be transported to a reserve in Jordan, 300 km from Gaza, said Martin Bauer, spokesman for the Vienna welfare group. Two of the lions would have been sent to South Africa.
Fathy Jomaa, owner of the Rafah zoo in southern Gaza, has accused poor economic conditions and a decade of blockade led by Israel in the narrow coastal enclave for leaving it unable to feed and care for its animals.
"It's a difficult decision; I feel like I'm losing my family. I've lived with some of these animals for 20 years," Jomaa said, adding that the economic difficulties left him with no choice. "I hope they find a better place to live."
Jomaa had been the subject of intense criticism from animal care groups after a series of recent deaths and mishaps.
Four lion cubs died of cold during a storm in January. One monkey killed another and a porcupine died more recently of unknown causes, the owner said. At the beginning of this year he de-clawed two young lions so that zoo visitors could easily pose for selfies with them.
Four Paws veterinarian Amir Khalil, who led the rescue mission, said the cages in the Gaza zoo had become too small to house the animals and their offspring. Now only the birds remain on the site.
Four Paws should have made the transfer in late March, but the organization could not enter the enclave since the crossing was closed that week due to a blaze of violence between Gaza and Israel.
Israel and Egypt have imposed a blockade on Gaza for security reasons after the Islamist group Hamas took control of the territory in 2007. The World Bank states that the blockade has reduced the territory, which hosts 2 million Palestinians, to a state of economic collapse.
The head of the Land Crossings Authority at the Israeli Ministry of Defense, Shlomo Saban, said in a statement that Israel "used all the means at our disposal to help move the animals as quickly as possible".
Israeli and Palestinian militants in the strip have fought three wars since 2008.
Four Paws says a number of animals at the zoo have died in bombings since its opening in 1999. In 2016, the group helped ease the transfer of the tiger to Gaza, and then moved it to South Africa.
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