A Palestinian worker carries a monkey at a zoo in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, during the evacuation by members of the international animal welfare charity "Four Paws" of animals from the Palestinian enclave to relocate to sanctuaries in Jordan, on April 7, 2019. Forty animals including five lions are to be rescued from squalid conditions in the Gaza Strip, an animal welfare group said. The zoo hit the headlines in February this year when the cash-strapped owner revealed he had declawed one of the lions there, so that customers could pay to play with her. / AFP / SAID KHATIB Image Credit: AFP

Rafah, Gaza - More than 40 animals, including five lions, were evacuated from squalid conditions in a Gaza Strip zoo on Sunday to be taken to Jordan, an animal welfare group said.

Thin and weakened, the 43 animals, including a wolf and monkeys, had been living in “terrible conditions,” said the Four Paws association, which organised the transfer.

The Rafah zoo in the southern Gaza Strip is the oldest in the enclave, which has been under an Israeli blockade for more than 10 years.

The animals were not in great shape, but were stable enough to be transported to a reserve in Jordan, some 300 kilometres from the Palestinian enclave, said Martin Bauer, spokesman for the Vienna-based welfare group.

The animals were sedated to be put in cages for the transfer through Israel. Two of the lions would eventually be sent to South Africa.

Four Paws was supposed to move ahead with the transfer in late March, but the organisation could not enter the enclave since the crossing was closed that week due to Israeli violence against Gaza.

Bauer said the mission had the support of the authorities in Gaza, run by Hamas, and of the zoo’s owner, who has said he could no longer afford the upkeep for the animals.

Israel’s permission was also received for the mission.

He said it was the biggest such mission carried out by Four Paws and intensive negotiations were required.

The zoo received attention recently when the owner revealed he had declawed one of its lions so customers could pay to play with her.

In January, four lion cubs died of cold in the zoo.

The Gaza Strip suffers from poverty and a lack of infrastructure, including a severe electricity shortage.

Four Paws says a number of animals at the zoo have died in bombings since its 1999 opening.

In 2016, Four Paws helped facilitate the transfer of the sole tiger in the Gaza Strip, eventually relocating it to South Africa.

The organisation in 2017 rescued a lion and a bear from a zoo in Mosul in northern Iraq, a former stronghold of Daesh.