Feature: Two false zebras in Gaza zoo amuse Gazans

08:44, October 10, 2009      

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Nidal Barghout, owner of Marah Land Zoo in southern Gaza City, failed to bring real zebras into his zoo, so he painted two Gaza-born donkeys with black and white stripes to attract visitors, especially the curious children.

"Due to more than two years of the tight Israeli siege on Gaza and the closure of the border crossings, I was unable to import zebras from Africa to our zoo. Then, an idea came to my mind: bring two domestic ordinary white donkeys, paint them black and white," Barghout told Xinhua.

At a first glance, most of the visitors at the zoo, mainly the children, would believe that they are real zebras, but once they get closer and watch the animals "with stripes" from a short distance, differences can be seen clearly: the false zebras have long ears, thick hair and bigger heads.

Actually, a variety of "real" animals can be found in the six-acre zoo located in southern Gaza city's Zeitoon neighborhood, such as lions, tigers, monkeys, foxes, wolves and numerous kinds of birds and reptiles, even rare snakes.

"They were smuggled into Gaza through the tunnels," said Nidal Barghout.

After Hamas Islamic movement seized control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 following weeks of fighting with rival President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party and routed Abbas' security forces, Israel imposed a tight blockade on the Gaza Strip and closed all the commercial crossings of the enclave.

Israel allowed just basic living materials into the Gaza Strip, and prohibited more than 400 kinds of products and goods into the enclave, including importing wild animals for the four primitive zoos in Gaza.

Gazans dug hundreds of underground tunnels under the borderline between southern Gaza Strip and Egypt, and smuggled almost all kinds of goods and products, including baby wild animals, birds and reptiles.

"It is hard to smuggle a real zebra from Egypt to Gaza, firstly, it is too heavy, and secondly, it costs around 50,000 U.S. dollars in total to buy a zebra from Africa and then bring it to the borderline area and smuggle it through the tunnels," said Barghout, "we just managed to bring in less expensive animals."

"However, I thought having a zebra in my zoo is very important for the children to see all kinds of jungle and desert wild animals, then the idea occurred to me," added Barghout.

"I bought a white Gaza-born donkey with 700 U.S. dollars, and shaved its thick hair and painted its body, head and tail with black hair dye," Barghout said.

"The children are amused and happy even when they find the zebra is false, we manage to overcome the siege hardness," he said.

Gaza schools arrange weekly journeys for children to visit Marah Land Zoo for entertainment and joy. There are three other zoos in Gaza other than Barghout's.

These zoos are not as huge as zoos in other countries worldwide. Zoo areas are small in the 360-square km Gaza Strip, unusually considered as one of the highly densely populated areas in the world.

Marah zoo receives around 1,000 visitors per day, said Barghout, adding "on weekends, the number gets larger, and during big holidays, such as Eid ul-Fiter and Eid ul-Adha, the zoo will be overcrowded. The entrance ticket costs 2 Israeli Shekels (0.54 U.S. dollar) for kids and 3 Shekels (0.81 U.S. dollar) for adults."

Yasser al-Shanti, who came to visit the zoo with his three children, said "at first I was amazed when I saw the false zebra, I thought it was real, but as soon as I got closer, I realized that it was fake and I laughed so much, so did my kids."

"Although we know these zebras are not real, they are what we have. I just want to make my children happy, who have seen the zebras for the first time, even if they are not the real ones," said al-Shanti, smiling and walking towards other animals.

Source: Xinhua
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