Falestine, a young lioness kept in captivity at the Rafah Zoo in the southern Gaza strip, never got the chance to be a normal tiger cub. In an attempt to make her more child-friendly, Falestine was declawed by her captors in January 2019 when she was just 14 months old.
After having her claws brutally ripped off with a pair of shears and her wounds sewed up, Falestine was given the job—to play with visitors, especially children—so as to generate revenue for the zoo.
Anas Abdel Raheem, 12, who met Falestine up close and personal at the Rafah Zoo, told AFP: “I am happy because I played with the lion and it did not bite me or tear my clothes. My friends saw the pictures I posted on Facebook and WhatsApp.”
Footage showing Falestine being declawed at the Palestinian zoo, as well as pictures showing people playing with the lioness after it was declawed, sparked outrage amongst animal welfare activists, who condemn the act.
Animal welfare activists allege that the lioness was subjected to “horrific pain” as she had her claws cut.
However, the zoo’s owner Mohammed Jumaa, 53, and veterinarian Fayyaz al-Haddad did not feel a pang of conscience for doing the act deemed cruel by the activists.
The zoo’s owner, Mohammed Jumaa, told the news outlet: “I’m trying to reduce the aggression of the lioness so it can be friendly with visitors.”
“The claws were cut so that they would not grow fast and visitors and children could play with her,” Fayez al-Haddad, the vet who declawed Falestine, said. “We want to bring smiles and happiness to children while increasing the number of visitors to the park, which suffers from high expenses.”
Fayez al-Haddad said the lioness “does not lose its innate nature” because her claws have been removed, but Four Paws, an international animal welfare charity, is of a different opinion.
Four Paws explained removing the claws is actually “a particularly vicious procedure which causes long-lasting damage” for big cats, said in a statement to MailOnline.
The animal welfare charity called ripping off the lioness’s claws a cruel and horrific treatment, as well as a “brutal mutilat[ion].” If performed on a human being, declawing would be like amputating a human being’s fingers down to the knuckles.
So imagine having our fingers amputated down to the knuckles; it would cause us much distress and pain after the operation. We’re no different from a disabled person. That’s probably what Falestine felt after having her claws removed by her captors.
“Natural behavior, such as grabbing food or climbing, is hardly possible without an animal’s claws. Since the amputation was not done in a proper vet clinic, the chance of infection is high,” Four Paws added.
Even worse, “declawing may result in permanent lameness, arthritis, and other long-term complications,” The Paw Project, which aims to educate the public about why declawing is inhumane, states on its website.
Sadly, the animal welfare activists’ warnings have fallen on deaf ears. In March, the Rafah Zoo announced its plans to perform declawing on two more lions, if necessary, without a veterinarian.
“The recent statements of the zoo owner are beyond horrific, said Four Paws’s veterinarian Dr. Amir Khalil in a statement. “His past and planned procedures are nothing but cruel mutilations under which the animals will suffer their whole life.”
“We urge the authorities to take action before more animals have to endure any sort of painful torture. We are ready for a rescue mission anytime if the zoo owner and the authorities in Gaza agree to close the zoo permanently,” Dr. Khalil added.
Four Paws calls on local authorities to put an end to the Rafah Zoo’s cruel declawing operations. It also urges the notorious zoo, which opened in 1999, to be shut down in view of its deplorable records—four newborn lions died in freezing weather conditions due to their dilapidated enclosure in January.