Qualqilya Zoo and Dr Khader's Taxidermy

Qalqilya is a Palestinian city, which houses a 2-hectare zoo, open since 1986. It used to be a popular attraction among Arabic and Israeli visitors. However, once the Second Intifada (Palestinian uprising against Israel) began, visitors from outside of Qalqilya were no longer permitted to visit the zoo. 

The zoo was often surrounded by violence as protests broke out. For example, at one time school children decided to throw stones at passing Israeli tanks. In response, the soldiers started shooting at them. This resulted in very some tragic losses. One of the zoo's key projects were its giraffes. At the time the zoo housed two giraffes, male and female, with the female being pregnant at the time. When the sound of gunfire could be heard in the giraffes' enclosure, the male giraffe became very frightened, he panicked, and ran into a wall of his enclosure. This caused him to fall down, and as he was unable to get up, he died due to failed blood circulation (giraffes must not lie down). Shortly after, the female giraffe had a miscarriage caused by the stress of losing her partner. She also died shortly after due to poisoning from tear gas.

Another time, when a whole crowd started throwing stones at the tanks, the Israeli army used tear gas to disperse them. Unfortunately, this happened close to where the zebras were at the time, and as tear gas is poisonous to these animals, their entire collection was killed. Another incident occurred during a public holiday when a Palestinian child was playing outside the zoo's main entrance and soldiers began to fire at random. The child was shot to death. 

Dr Khader currently works as the leading vet at the zoo. Thanks to him and his coworkers the zoo is still functioning despite all these tragedies and losses. Knowing how to perform taxidermy, he managed to preserve the bodies of some of the dead animals and they can be viewed in the zoo's museum enclosure. The exhibits include the unfortunate giraffe family, together with the miscarried baby giraffe, zebras and a jungle cat. 

Taxidermy of one of the giraffes killed during the protests

As Dr Khader's taxidermy skills were mainly self taught, and due to lack of resources, such as sufficient artificial eyes, some of the exhibits appear deformed and not very life-like. However, what is most important is the fact that the animals have been preserved well by a man who befriended and looked after them during their lifetime, and thanks to his efforts they will be remembered by generations to come, while residents of Qalqilya can be educated about the wildlife that can be found in other parts of the world. 

Although the zoo and its museum are still functioning, being home to various remaining wild animals, and receiving visitors, it still faces several challenges. One of the issues is the difficulty to obtain new animals due to strict border controls hindering import of specimens from other countries. In addition, some of the animals have difficulty reproducing naturally and having surviving offspring. For example, one of the bears in the zoo was found to eat its own children and grandchildren. A female monkey and her male partner did the same to their offspring, after throwing it around their cage. Despite that, a positive thing happened after the monkey gave birth to her second child, and it was rescued instantaneously after its birth. The infant monkey developed healthily being fed with artificial milk, and it befriended a local cat. 

In April 2017 an incident took place when a 9-year old child had his arm bitten off by a hungry bear at the zoo. Reportedly, this was due to the child walking past a security fence. However, it is clear that hunger is a problem for the animals. In addition, visitors to the zoo claimed to have observed the animals acting anxious, which should not be a surprise after what they had been through, with so much human violence happening near them, as well as shortage of funding required to build better cages and provide more food and medication for them. 

However, hope is certainly not lost as Dr Khader and his coworkers do not give up in their efforts to make the animals comfortable and make the zoo a better place, able to attract more visitors. The good news is that at the moment the zoo is in the process of joining the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums. This will ensure that it will provide a good standard of care to the animals by abiding to guidelines given by the membership. In addition, there is a plan to divide the zoo into zones with the aim of educating its visitors, and providing extra space for the animals. As a peaceful place amid political conflict and bloodshed, the zoo plays a significant role in uniting people who love animals and want to learn about them.


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