Watch: Lions rescued from Gaza settle into their new SA home – and feel grass under their feet for the first time

Business Insider SA

lion rescue
Supplied: Four Paws
  • Motan and Pisa were rescued from Gaza's notorious Rafah Zoo.
  • The two lions have spent their entire lives in concrete cages.
  • They travelled thousands of kilometres to a South African refuge, where they are learning about things such as grass.

Motan and Pisa were rescued from the notorious Rafah Zoo in Gaza after spending their first few years living in concrete cages, under horrific conditions.

When the lions arrived at their new home, Lionsrock near Bethlehem in South Africa's Free State province – the pair were very insecure about their new environment, says Hildegard Pirker, head of the animal welfare department at the sanctuary.

“When we released them it became clear to us that they’ve probably been kept in tiny concrete cages and that they’ve never felt grass under their feet. Both Motan and Pisa didn’t know what to make of the sensation of grass under their feet or the uneven surface of the ground. This means that they’ve been exposed to very little natural surrounds and that it took them a bit longer to settle in,” says Pirker.

“After two weeks at Lionsrock and monitoring them intensively, we decided to release them into the bigger part of their enclosure. Prior to this we kept them in the feeding area of the enclosure to let them get used to the new surrounds. We saw that both of them were getting used to their enclosure and becoming more curious about the bigger area.

“It is incredible to see the excitement in their exploring of this new space that they find themselves in. There is still a lot of rehabilitation to be done, and we will in the coming weeks give them enrichment to stimulate their natural behaviour,” says Pirker.

International welfare organisation Four Paws recently transferred 47 zoo animals from the Gaza Strip, in their biggest rescue mission to date.

The animals – five lions, a hyena, several monkeys, wolves, porcupines, foxes, cats, dogs, emus, ostriches, and squirrels – came from the Rafah Zoo. The zoo made headlines in early 2019 when four lion cubs froze to death. Weeks later, footage surfaced of an incident in which garden shears were used to declaw a lioness.

After months of preparations and several attempts, the rescue mission took Four Paws to Gaza on 4 April. A team consisting of veterinarians and wildlife experts started the almost 300-kilometre journey to Jordan with the 47 rescued animals on 7 April.

The majority of the animals were released into wildlife sanctuaries about one hour away from Amman. Only Motan and Pisa continued on to South Africa.

In previous years, Four Paws has been successful in saving animals from Iraq, Syria and Gaza; most of them have come to Lionsrock.

Motan and Pisa joined the likes of Simba and Saeed, two lions rescued from zoos in Mosul and outside Aleppo in 2017, as well as tiger Laziz rescued from a zoo in Gaza in 2016.

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