Palestinian Man Moves Most Animals from Rafah Zoo

A keeper cares for animals of the Rafah Zoo after their evacuation to a location in Khan Yunis in the Gaza strip on May 22, 2024. (Photo by Eyad BABA / AFP)
A keeper cares for animals of the Rafah Zoo after their evacuation to a location in Khan Yunis in the Gaza strip on May 22, 2024. (Photo by Eyad BABA / AFP)
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Palestinian Man Moves Most Animals from Rafah Zoo

A keeper cares for animals of the Rafah Zoo after their evacuation to a location in Khan Yunis in the Gaza strip on May 22, 2024. (Photo by Eyad BABA / AFP)
A keeper cares for animals of the Rafah Zoo after their evacuation to a location in Khan Yunis in the Gaza strip on May 22, 2024. (Photo by Eyad BABA / AFP)

In a cowshed in Gaza's Khan Yunis, zookeeper Fathi Ahmed Gomaa has created a temporary home for dozens of animals including lions and baboons, having fled with them from Israel's offensive in Rafah.

"We've moved all the animals we had, except for three big lions that remain (in Rafah)", he told Agence France Presse.

"I ran out of time and couldn't move them."

Ahmed abandoned his zoo in Rafah when Israel ordered the evacuation of parts of the southern Gazan city.

Before the offensive, the city on the border with Egypt had been spared a ground invasion and more than half of the Gaza Strip's population was sheltering there.

"I am appealing to the Israeli authorities: these animals have no connection to terrorism", Gomaa told AFP, saying he wanted their help in coordinating with aid agencies to rescue the lions left behind in Rafah.

He fears they won't survive long on their own.

"Of course, within a week or 10 days, if we don't get them out they will die because they'll be left with no food or water."

Gomaa said he had already lost several of his animals to the war. "Three lion cubs, five monkeys, a newborn monkey and nine squirrels," he said.

And while the squawking of parrots fills the air, many of Gomaa's other birds are no longer with him.

"I released some of the dogs, some of the hawks and eagles, some of the pigeons and some of the ornamental birds. I released a lot of them because we didn't have cages to transport them."

In the cowshed, Gomaa is making do with what he has, using improvised fencing to raise the heights of the pens so that their new inhabitants, spotted deer, can't leap out.



What is China's Panda Diplomacy and How Does it Work?

Wang Wang the panda is seen during China's Premier Li Qiang's visit to the Adelaide Zoo in Adelaide on June 16, 2024. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake / POOL / AFP)
Wang Wang the panda is seen during China's Premier Li Qiang's visit to the Adelaide Zoo in Adelaide on June 16, 2024. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake / POOL / AFP)
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What is China's Panda Diplomacy and How Does it Work?

Wang Wang the panda is seen during China's Premier Li Qiang's visit to the Adelaide Zoo in Adelaide on June 16, 2024. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake / POOL / AFP)
Wang Wang the panda is seen during China's Premier Li Qiang's visit to the Adelaide Zoo in Adelaide on June 16, 2024. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake / POOL / AFP)

During a visit to Australia this week, Chinese Premier Li Qiang made a classic goodwill gesture that boded well for relations between the two countries: he offered to send pandas.
The offer comes as ties between Australia and its largest trading partner improve after a diplomatic dispute that led to China imposing a raft of restrictions on Australian agricultural and mineral exports in 2020.
Native to China, pandas have through the years become "envoys of friendship", earning China's outreach to countries it gifts the animals to the name of panda diplomacy, Reuters said.
They have also been used to show Chinese anger.
So what is panda diplomacy and how does it work?
WHEN DID PANDA DIPLOMACY START?
Since its founding in 1949, the People's Republic of China has used panda diplomacy to boost its international image, either by gifting or lending panda to foreign zoos as goodwill animal ambassadors.
Former Chinese leader Mao Zedong in 1957 gifted a panda, Ping Ping, to the former Soviet Union to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the October Revolution that ushered in the Soviet regime.
To further cement ties with its socialist allies, China dispatched another panda to the Soviet Union in 1959 and five more to North Korea between 1965 and 1980.
In 1972, Beijing gifted two pandas, Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing, to the United States after then President Richard Nixon's historic visit, in a sign of normalized China-US relations and marking a pivotal moment for China's foreign policy.
Since then, other countries including Japan, France, Britain and Spain have also been given panda.
WHAT'S THE PANDA DIPLOMACY POLICY?
Since 1984, China stopped gifting pandas due to their dwindling numbers and began loaning them to overseas zoos instead, often in pairs for 10 years, with an annual fee of up to about $1 million.
While keeping pandas can be costly for zoos, they are seen as drawcards for visitors and help generate income.
The pandas typically return home to southwest China after the loan agreement ends. Panda cubs born overseas are no exception, and would be sent home between the age of two and four to join a Chinese breeding program.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
China has a history of using pandas to reward its trading partners. A 2013 Oxford University study said the timing of China's lease of pandas to Canada, France and Australia "coincided with" uranium deals and contracts with these countries.
The panda agreements with other countries, including Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, also coincided with the signing of free-trade agreements.
Sometimes, pandas are also used to express China's displeasure with a nation.
In 2010, China recalled two US-born pandas, Tai Shan and Mei Lan, after Beijing warned Washington against a scheduled meeting between then-President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama, which Beijing views as a dangerous separatist.
In a recent downturn in bilateral ties, Ya Ya, on loan to the US for 20 years, was returned in April 2023.
Concerns over her health had also fanned nationalist sentiment on China's social media, with animal advocates accusing the Memphis Zoo in Tennessee of providing inadequate care to the animal.
In November last year, three other pandas left, leaving only four giant pandas on US soil.
That month, Chinese President Xi Jinping then hinted that he was open to sending more pandas to the US after meeting with President Joe Biden in California, a gesture seen as Chinese willingness to improve ties.
ARE PANDAS STILL ENDANGERED?
China's domestic conservation programs have seen the status of pandas improve from endangered to vulnerable.
The population of giant pandas in the wild has grown from around 1,100 in the 1980s to 1,900 in 2023.
There are currently 728 pandas in zoos and breeding centers around the world.