GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The animal sector also fell victim to the recent Israeli war on the Gaza Strip, which broke out May 10 and ended with an Egyptian- and UN-brokered cease-fire agreement May 21.
Many animals were killed or injured, whether by direct targeting or as a result of missile shrapnel; others died due to their owners’ inability to feed them or due to a shortage of animal food, as Israel closed the crossings during the war. It allowed fodder to enter the Gaza Strip after 17 days of closure.
Umm Fares, whose four-year-old son owns a cat, told Al-Monitor, “At the start of the war, I noticed that the cat was hiding under the couch every time there was a nearby bombing. The cat refused to go out until it felt safe and calm was restored in the area.”
She said, “Because of the intensity of the nearby shelling, we decided to go down to the ground floor, as we thought that the higher places were more dangerous and exposed to Israeli shelling. But the cat refused to come down with us. Each time we carried it to the ground floor, it would escape and return again and hide under the couch.”
She noted, “Although my son was terrified of the sounds of the bombings, he would rush to get the cat every time it went upstairs. He was afraid that something might hit and kill it.”
Umm Fares said that as soon as the war ended, she went to a veterinarian in search of answers to the cat’s change in behavior, who was hiding most of the time and not responding when called. The vet discovered that the cat suffered ear problems due to the intensity of the sounds it was exposed to during the bombings.
“The vet prescribed antibiotics and vitamins. Its health has improved and it has returned to its usual mischief at home,” she added. “When Israeli airstrikes [hit Gaza] June 17, the cat ran to the same place where it had been hiding before. It seems that the memories of the war returned quickly."
The director of the Sulala Society for Animals Care in Gaza City, Said al-Arr, told Al-Monitor, “The animals in the [association’s] shelter were seriously harmed during the war, as some of them were hit by shrapnel from rockets and shells. A number of them were killed, including a horse, a donkey and several dogs and cats, due to the targeting of places close to the shelter.”
He said that several dogs suffered injuries to their legs and had to undergo amputations. A horse suffered eye injuries and will have to undergo an enucleation. He said that they received about 10 cases of animal injuries after the war.
Arr added that, because of the shrapnel that hit the association's building, the doors were broken and several animals fled. Around 40 animals were lost after the war; one of the dogs had smallpox and infected about 10 other dogs.
He said that during the Israeli shelling, he asked one of the people close to the shelter to put out food for the animals. Arr would put out food at the door of the shelter and run away for fear of being hit.
He continued, “We will run recreational and psychological programs for the animals, with the help of veterinarians. We will continue to care for animals and nothing will stop us.”
Hamdi Ali Omar, zookeeper of Gaza Zoo, told Al-Monitor, “Just like us, animals are afraid of the sounds of bombings and fear for their lives. They flee to any place they think is safe.”
He said, “The animals in the garden were making different and strange sounds, expressing their fear and panic. Even the birds stopped chirping.”
He said they brought in veterinarians to check on the animals.
Omar pointed out that the animals in the garden rejoiced and felt relaxed as soon as they spotted children and people after the war, although they have not fully recovered mentally.
He said, “The animal that was most affected in the garden was the lioness. It was cheerful and active, but now it is quite the opposite.”
The attending veterinarian at a veterinary center in Gaza, Jawhar Rashid, told Al-Monitor, “The war left a huge impact on the animal sector, especially cats, as they made strange sounds during the shelling out of fear, and they ran and hid in different places in search of safety.”
He stressed that a large number of animals suffered many problems, whether due to direct shelling or targeting of nearby places. They were panicky, scared and manifested behavioral changes, according to Rashid. Many of them died, especially those on farms due to the inability of their owners to reach them and provide them with food during the war.
Rashid noted that many breeders of pets, such as cats and dogs, came to the center to seek treatment for the change in the behavior of their animals or their injuries. He said there is a shortage of veterinary treatments available in the Gaza Strip. Since the end of the war, only two trucks of animal medicines have been brought in, including some vaccinations. However, he said that this is insufficient and does not cover all viral diseases that affect animals. Sedatives, antibiotics and vitamins have not been allowed to enter.
“We treat the animals exhibiting behavioral changes by giving them sedatives and vitamins, which are about to run out, and some fortifiers that help them regain their strength,” Rashid warned.
He noted that if Israel continues to close the crossings, Gaza's animal wealth will be depleted.
Veterinarian Ali Shaker told Al-Monitor, “The war deprived animals of large agricultural areas, which constituted their source of nourishment. Israel targeted agricultural lands where fires also broke out. These agricultural areas are also contaminated with chemicals and explosives.”
He said that the cases of animal miscarriage, especially among cows, doubled after the war, which will affect their fertility and productivity. Many cows also died, he said, adding that the suspension of entry of fodder for more than 17 days due to the war led to a deterioration in the health of the animals.
He also pointed to the shortage of a number of medicines and vaccinations that would preserve animal health, especially in fodder ingredients such as mineral salts and soy.
Shaker said that pets suffered psychological trauma, especially dogs, and they have become difficult to control.
He concluded that the biggest challenge is the sudden rise in the price of fodder by 30%, in addition to the lack of medicines available in the Gaza Strip to treat animals.