By Liz Tyson
In the last few weeks, news outlets around the world have delighted in sharing pictures of two adorable baby lion cubs cavorting with young children in a refugee camp in the war-torn Gaza strip.
The two cubs were sold to their current owner by a private zoo in Rafah in Southern Gaza when they were just two weeks old and have since been paraded at soccer matches and other photo opportunities.
Despite the positive media coverage, animal welfare experts have been deeply concerned to see these young wild animals kept as pets. Not only does the keeping of wild animals in domestic settings seriously compromise the welfare of the animals, but it also poses a very real and serious threat to the people around them.
Working on the Ground to Secure a Safe Future for the Cubs
Since the first photographs emerged, Palestinian animal protection NGO, the Palestinian Animal League (PAL), has been working hard with colleagues on the ground in Gaza to get the cubs to a more suitable environment. A spokesperson for the organization said that the process was progressing towards a positive outcome until an unknown third party allegedly offered money to take the cubs from the owner in the last few days, bringing negotiations to a grinding halt.
Having secured the tentative agreement of the zoo in Rafah to bring an end to breeding and selling big cats, what remained was working with the current owner of the cubs to convince him to surrender the young animals into the temporary care of the PAL.
But on Tuesday, April 7th, the cubs’ owner told the NGO team that an organization from the United States had offered him a reported $17,000 for the young animals; an offer he was considering accepting. The zoo claims to have sold the lions for $7,000 little over a month ago so this would represent a huge $10,000 profit for the current owner if the deal goes ahead. Having learned of the money to be made from the sale, the zoo owner is now reconsidering his previous commitment to bring an end to breeding and selling animals.
Concerns That Would-Be Rescuers may Create a Damaging Commercial Market for Wild Animals
The cubs’ owner would not share the details of the international organization, so it is unclear if the offer has been made by a well-meaning animal protection group or a private buyer. PAL has appealed to the mystery organization to make direct contact with their team as a matter of urgency over concerns that, if the sale of the cubs goes ahead, it may be unwittingly creating a market for wild animals in the region, meaning further generations of young lions and other animals could be subjected to a lifetime of captivity and exploitation.
PAL Executive Director, Ahmad Safi, said:
“It is vital that we deal not just with the individual cubs that are currently in private hands, but also that we work to ensure that those profiting from selling and hiring out the cubs fully understand that wild animals such as these have no place in people’s homes. Getting the two cubs to safety is in everyone’s best interests but it is vital that well-meaning actions at this delicate stage do not have negative repercussions. We need to send a clear message that making money from the sale of wild animals is not acceptable.”
PAL is incredibly eager to locate the potential buyer of the Rafah lions and has appealed for anyone with information to contact the team via email.