After Dr. Amir Khalil crossed multiple borders and thousands of miles traveled, it pushes an arrow, soaked with ketamine, into a thin blowpipe. Khalil stands in front of the Pavia cage in the Zoo, in Rafah in the southern Gaza strip, sweat rivulets forming on his forehead, he takes a deep breath, but the baboons can be a chance, not with the Darts arrows from his anaesthetic tube in the butt to shoot. Nimble as pinball balls chase you screaming through the enclosure. For the first monkey, he misses five Darts until he is. The other monkey, maybe he suspects now finally, what is to him, cancels the stun arrows and throws him back in the direction of Dr. Khalil. “Away from the cage!”, Dr. Khalil roars and cringes in front of the projectile. First the rockets, then Hamas, and now the monkey fights back.

“good luck!”

Amir Khalil actually has a lot of experience with what he’s doing. He works for the animal protection organisation Four paws, and there is hardly a war in the Arab world, he has not witnessed in the past few years. In 2003, he flew to Baghdad and rescued abandoned animals from Saddam Hussein’s private zoo, while U.S. troops took the city under attack. In 2011, he went during the civil war after Tripoli and took his Team to the 700 hungry animals in the Zoo, the Libyan capital. In 2017, he saved the lions and bears from Mosul in Iraq, and 13 animals from the Zoo of the destroyed Aleppo in Syria. And so, of Rafah, the oldest Zoo in the Gaza strip. Dr. Khalil was here to visit. He has seen monkeys playing in the garbage, and an eagle sitting in a narrow cage, that he cannot stretch out his wings. The owner of the zoo was not malicious, says Khalil, but there is a lack of money for large cages, feed and medicine. Good and Evil are for Khalil anyway difficult concepts.


47 loaded zoo animals from the NGO – the preparation of the rescue action lasted for months

©Corinna Kern

Anyway, he decided to save the animals. For several months he has led negotiations. With the zoo Director. Hamas. With Israel. He took care of papers and Transport. Now he is on the verge of the greatest rescue mission of his career.

Two weeks before the day at the Zoo to a monkey with stun arrows will pelt, runs Amir Khalil at the airport in Vienna to the Gate. He’s wearing a denim jacket and a suitcase with a tranquilizer gun. Next to him is his assistant, Marion Lombard. She comes from France and has been working since September for Khalil. Since then, people often say to her: “good luck!”

“What are you doing?”, ask the lady from the airline, Dr. Khalil is now at the Desk and looks suspiciously at all the boxes, medicine bags and cages, which he and his assistant have.

“We are an international animal protection organization, and the animals from a Zoo in Gaza will save the strip,” says Dr. Khalil.

“What animals?”, ask the lady and pulls up the eyebrows.

“Five lions, four monkeys, two wolves, a hyena …”

laughing, The lady starts.


A child sitting on a mummified lion, he was killed in a rocket attack

©Corinna Kern

“Should we bring you back a monkey?”, Dr. Khalil kids.

Marion Lombard says: “The people keep us often for Crazy.”

Amir Khalil: “We are crazy, too.”

Marion Lombard: “I don’t.”

Dr. Khalil: “not Yet.”

Four paws

He knows that it may seem cynical, what he’s doing. Animals from crisis zones to rescue, while people are dying. But for him, everything hangs together, the animals, the people. He says: “animals can educate people to humanity.” Especially in the war. Where humanity is lost, in fact, always.

According to Dr. Khalil, the Organisation has no political intentions, but it does take the policy like a mushroom on the forest floor. During the trip you will understand, like Dr. Khalil, the man with the big belly and the big heart, manages to win over politicians for themselves.

Dr. Khalil was still a child, he looked most like the American TV series “Daktari” with veterinarian Dr. Marsh Tracy. He saw Dr. Tracy, as the lion cubs looked at, and dreamed of him on the wild animal station according to Africa adventure. Meanwhile, Dr. Khalils life has become one adventure and in contrast to Daktari is not a feature film.


This hyena is very bad. According to the investigation, Dr. Khalil gives her infusions

©Corinna Kern

He has seen dead bodies, was threatened with death, came under fire. In an operation in Mosul a car bomb that exploded only a few meters away from him. Nevertheless, he claims: “life tired I am.” Dr. Khalil is wearing a protective vest during his missions. Instead, he has a fabric shirt with a weasel, the sign of his NGO coat of arms.

Amir Khalil was born 54 years ago in the Fayyum basin in Egypt and studied in Cairo veterinary medicine. The animal protection organisation Four paws was founded in 1988 in Vienna, Heli Dungler. The idea was born there where only really big ideas: at the counter of Austrian Beisls.

“My Way”

His first trip as a veterinarian, Dr. Khalil led 25 years ago in the Balkans. Later, he rescued bears with Brigitte Bardot, but it was quickly clear that there are crises and conflicts that really interest them.

so Now, Gaza, but all meet in a Hotel in Jordan. In the Bus towards the Hotel Amir open Youtube and click on Frank Sinatra”. His favourite artist is Cat Stevens, but his favorite song is “My Way” by Frank Sinatra. He sings: “Regrets, I’ve had a few.” Marion Lombard twisted the eyes. Dr. Khalil laughs. Outside, the setting sun Amman immersed in a Golden light.

other journalists and a film crew of the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei to travel a little later, for documentation. With the years, Dr. Khalil and his rescue missions always become famous. And the media attention is important for “Four paws”, you can bring donations to which the organization is dependent. And the rescue action in Gaza is not only the largest but also the most expensive.


visitors to the zoo before the evacuation. The Park was one of the few attractions in Gaza:

©Corinna Kern

In the Bus on the way to the border with Gaza, Khalil reached the news that early in the Morning in the locality mixing Meret, North-East of Tel Aviv, a house, a rocket was hit. The rocket was fired from the Gaza strip. Seven people were injured in the attack, under ihalso children and a Baby.

Dr. Khalil is breathing heavily. He can’t have that now. He knows that In the case of air attacks, it may happen that the border crossings between Israel and Gaza will be closed. Now he can only wait and see. Before leaving Jordan, he needs to tell his Team: “The border to Gaza is closed. Today we will can not enter.”


Dr. Khalil goes out and lights a cigarette. He knows: the hotter the conflict, the less someone is interested in his Mission. Then the animals back to the last place. And he also knows that Every day that is lost, costs a lot of money. For today, the Mission is completed anyway. You can go back to the Hotel in Jordan.

in the Evening, all meet in room 210. At the Jordanian border, the Team has bought in Duty-free Whiskey and wine. You are sitting together, Smoking cigarettes and thinking about the day. On CNN you see the strikes, the bombs, the fires of Israel as an act of revenge on Gaza. The war is suddenly very close. In the morning you want to start a new attempt.

But nothing will come. The Situation is too dangerous. Dr. Khalil aborts the Mission. He solves the Team temporarily. Without the entry, no rescue.

Three days later, he sends a Whatsapp message. You should as quickly as possible to the border to Gaza. Dr. Khalil with a white Minivan, and a much smaller Team.


A child wants to feed the lions. The condition of the cages is not only dangerous for the animals.

©Corinna Kern

As you cross the border at Erez, to cheer all. It permits for the departure are still missing, a Minister of power, Dr. Khalil problems. But you are here. The Team operates directly with mini-buses and a few local assistants to the Zoo. The journey takes almost an hour – in an area not even as large as the Federal state of Bremen, and leads you along the beach. The driver is told that no one could go into the sea, because it was contaminated, just like the tap water. By 2020, a UN warned report in July 2017, could be the area “uninhabitable”. The healthcare, the education system and public life in the Gaza strip were not functioning sufficiently, it said in the report.

The Zoo itself is actually just a house with a palm-fringed garden. In the garden of cages lined up in a horseshoe shape. In the cages the animals sitting. Almost all of them were illegally smuggled through underground tunnels from Egypt into the Gaza strip. In trying to squeeze a Giraffe through the low Tunnel, they broke her Neck. Some of the animals were killed by rocket attacks from Israel. In the middle of the zoo, children’s carousels, of which the paint is all peeling, are. On Park benches veiled women and pick sit and nod.

Zoo in the Gaza strip is considered to be little Sensation

From the outside, the Zoo is a peaceful place. Children’s laughter, colorful painted signs, a small oasis, almost in this otherwise poor and of hatred and war-torn area. A Zoo in the Gaza strip is a small Sensation.

Who is looking, but in the cages, understands why Dr. Khalil would like to evacuate the animals. A hyena is breathing hard and half-dead in a cage, barely bigger than a locker room. An older Leo looks apathetic by the iron grating. Pelicans run through piles of Garbage. A few of the killed animals were stuffed and exhibited. At the beginning of the year, four lions babies froze to death in the Zoo. You can say: The Standards in Gaza are anything other than optimal. Once a Manager had a donkey with stripes painted, so they looked like Zebras.

evacuated As Dr. Khalil two years ago, animals from the amusement Park “Magic World”, near Aleppo, from Syria, had fled, most of the people already. In Gaza it is different. Dr. Khalil will take the animals, but the people remain. “A Zoo in Gaza”, says Dr. Khalil, “is a prison in a prison.”


In the middle of the animal Park carousel are, under the corrugated tin huts on the edge of the animals

©Corinna Kern

hausen A day later, Khalil running through the lobby of the hotel, smokes and thinks. He comes to the conclusion: He needs to talk to someone from Hamas, a local helpers know that one of the leaders holds a press conference in a Hotel. In front of the door to the hotel room, Dr. Khalil intercepts Hamas leader, he speaks Arabic, he knows it now goes to the all-important first impression. The Hamas leader looks at Dr. Khalil as a mentally ill and refers him to his head of office. The to hear for a long time. Dr. Khalil shows him pictures of his three daughters. At the end of the head of office says he’ll make up for the Mission.

in the Evening, Dr. Khalil gathered the Team and said: “It’s happening soon. Morning. We are working against time, because we losmüssen, before the borders close.” The next Morning, the Team of Dr. Khalil drives into the Zoo. All animals need a Chip, in order to be allowed to leave the country. In addition, the anesthesia must be prepared syringes. A few animals need to be sedated to get them into the cages. The great lion, the hyena, the Wolf and the baboons.

#save Gaza animals

Dr. Khalil himself goes to Meet with Hamas and come back a little later relieved. For the last Time, it was Dr. Khalil is allowed to take animals somewhere else. But there was also Anger. The organization of Dr. Khalil, it saw Hamas people, presents itself as the Savior and the Zoo as a disaster. They resented the Hashtag #save Gaza animals, Four paws has invented.

The Hamas people, Dr. Khalil said that the people in Gaza would do but its Possible. And they have so little, really needed a Zoo. In addition, they are not second-class people. You would find it better if Dr. Khalil and his organization will help the next Time to improve the Situation, to evacuate instead of the animals. They offered to make Dr. Khalil for this country. Dr. Khalil promised that he will work on it. But this Time, he was able to make it clear that he would have the animals to take with us.


New faces: Dr. Khalil and assistant Marion Lombard know that the first rescue must attempt to be aborted

©Corinna Kern

Back in the Zoo, then starts the Chaos. The NGO only a few hours remain for the entire evacuation. It was planned for three days. The monkey throws at him with the stun arrow, Dr. Khalil, it drives the sweat on the forehead. As suspected, the animals that something is different, in the trees you suddenly find yourself with all your might against the strange Savior. The complete Zoo by turns. A couple of half the Tierschü want to growing backers support and try to get the pelicans to capture, but one escapes and runs away flapping their wings.

at All: each enclosure, screams, roars, meows, make any electronical noises and flapping it. A young lioness jumps in front of panic on the roof of your cage. The Zoobesitzer captures them with a net. The other young lions to be lured by the employees of the zoo with dead chickens in the cages. But even that doesn’t work. So you pull them plastic bags over the head, what seems to make the lion more mad.

The monkeys are finally asleep and in their boxes. Dr. Khalil is wearing a stunned Wolf in a cage. The brother of the Zoodirektors pulls his right of Slippers, and one of the helpers, for whatever reason.

puppy dog

Everywhere is screaming, sometimes in English, mostly in Arabic, cats escape, and in attempting to put a monkey family in the cages, away from the baby monkey. The Manager refuses, the animal rights activists, eight puppies to deliver, because he says, in his contract with the NGO, the puppies are in there, so they belonged to him. It comes to a dispute. Dr. Khalil teaches and soothes. The mother of the Puppies is growling. In the end, you will be taken away without their children.


Angry baboon with a tranquilizer dart

©Corinna Kern

almost all animals are finally in the cages are, is also still in school and hundreds of noisy school children flock to the entrance of the zoo to the large load that the animals should be loaded. It is getting louder and more excited. Once a bouquet of tilting cage almost from the truck, because one of the helpers can no longer keep him. Dr. Khalil is surrounded by hundreds of people on the lift, and conducted persistent the cages on a hook threat and herschwenken.

The zoo Director has in his house and watching the Goings on from the balcony. The business with the animal protection organization, and he has earned good money. But while the cages are loaded, running to him, a tear on the cheek.


“Why are you taking us to the animals?”, a little schoolgirl Dr. Khalil asks in Arabic. “We don’t take that away, you not only get a better home,” he replies. One of the local helpers said: “The animals are what we dream of: to leave the country.” For a brief Moment you can feel the sadness between all of the animals and the hustle and bustle of the Tourist have caused, even if they actually wanted only Good.

is charged As of the last cage, the brother of the Zoodirektors the gate. The Truck starts the engine, the Team of Dr. Khalil takes refuge in the Minivans. The Zoo in Rafah’s history. With the money from the Four paws of the Zoobesitzer would like to open on the square is a Café.


After the excitement of Dr. Khalil smokes. On some days he smokes four packs.

©Corinna Kern

the next day, the organization issues a press release: “Four paws has succeeded in his biggest Coup.” The Team had evacuated 47 zoo animals from the Gaza strip.

Almost all of the animals have survived the Transport well. The two older lions are on the way to South Africa. The three boys were in front of the eyes of the Princess Alia, the half-sister of king Abdullah, in a protection centre in Jordan.

of The sun

however, It took quite a long time, until the lion dared to leave their cages. Maybe it went to you as prisoners after a long time in prison, also you need to learn the freedom often again. The lion, it seemed, she was initially afraid of. The pelicans used to the faster turn. They were released at the dead sea and flew immediately to the sun.

And who is now Dr. Khalil? A Hero, a dreamer, an animal freak, Driven? Maybe he is everything, and maybe it doesn’t matter. Because at the end of this story five lions entered for the first Time in her life, a piece of Grass.

If you ask Dr. Khalil, if he have a bad Conscience have a say because of the people who can’t visit the Zoo now, then he: “Yes.”

topics in this article, Gaza, Gaza strip, animal welfare organisation Four paws in the crisis area Zoos, zoo Director, Israel cage Rafah, Jordan, NGO Aleppo, Syria Transport Vienna Egypt


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