Flies swarm around some of the 10 animals that have been embalmed so far. The makeshift cages housing the exhibits — fashioned from fencing salvaged from Jewish settlements that Israel dismantled in 2005 — are littered with empty soda cans and other trash.
An emaciated-looking stuffed lion, its coat patchy and mangy, lies on an exhibit cobbled together from crates and shipping pallets. A monkey had missing limbs. A porcupine had a hole in its head.
The zoo's 65 live animals, which include ostriches, monkeys, turtles, deer, a llama, a lion and a tiger, don't fare much better. During a recent visit, children poked chocolate, potato chips and bread through the wire. There's no zookeeper on the premises. Gaza has no government body that oversees zoos, and medical treatment is done by consulting over the phone with zoo veterinarians in Egypt.
Still, the zoo is one of the few places of entertainment here in Khan Younis, a city of 200,000 people at the southern end of the Gaza Strip. It's one of five zoos in the Gaza Strip, a densely populated coastal enclave of 1.7 million people ruled by Islamic Hamas militants.
A 14-year-old boy snapped pictures of the animals with his mobile phone.
“I have been to this place before years ago but this is my first time seeing mummified animals,” he said. “They look like they are asleep. I will print out the pictures of me standing next to the lion and put it on my wall. It will be fun to show it to my younger brothers.”