Israeli lions and zebras make new home in Palestinian zoo

jerusalem | Israel’s safari park sent lions, zebras and desert goats to a zoo in a West Bank town —a rare gesture of cooperation after four years of bloody conflict.

The gift will help replace several animals killed at the Kalkilya Zoo during Israeli army raids, including three zebras who succumbed to tear gas during a demonstration in 2002 at a neighboring high school.

For the Israeli and Palestinian zookeepers, the transfer of the animals signifies a relative lull in the bloodshed, which has helped renew their cooperation, though the calm was wrecked by a Palestinian suicide attack in Israel last week that killed 16 people.

The animals were moved Sunday, Sept. 5, from the Ramat Gan Safari along 12 miles of checkpoints and one-time flashpoints of violence to the Kalkilya Zoo, which was closed until six months ago. Kalkilya is next to the line between Israel and the West Bank.

The animals traveled a path many Israelis and Palestinians cannot — the army prohibits Israelis from entering Palestinian areas, where they could be attacked, and most Palestinians are not allowed to enter Israel for fear they could be attackers.

The zoo, which has some 170 animals, had been closed during much of the bloodshed because of Israeli closures, military raids and frequent clashes.

“We canceled everything because of the intifada,” said Sami Khader, veterinarian at the Palestinian zoo. “But our relations never ended. “

Khader, said he often risked his life traveling to the zoo to feed the animals and make sure they were still alive. Despite the violence, the Israeli and Palestinian vets have maintained contact throughout the conflict. Once Khader found three zebras who had died from tear gas inhalation during a violent demonstration. Another time he found a giraffe that had hit its head on an iron bar, apparently spooked by gunfire the night before.

When the truck carrying the animals entered Kalkilya, dozens of cheering schoolchildren lined the streets.

“I got out of school to see the new animals,” said Omar Ahmad, 12. “I am very happy to see new animals.”

Khader was happy the three lions, two zebras and three desert goats — called ibexes — did not suffer the same trouble an ostrich delivered from Israel had to endure five months ago. When the Israelis reached the Kalkilya checkpoint with the bird, the army tried to prevent the transfer, he said.