BEIRUT, June 29 (Reuters) – Thin and frail, the two big cats barely moved as they lay on the concrete floor of their cage, while nearby a skinny Syrian brown bear paced anxiously up and down its enclosure.
The three starving animals are among the last neglected residents of a zoo in Hazmieh near Beirut, whose maintenance has become too expensive due to the economic crisis in Lebanon.
“They’re not really lions right now,” said Jason Mier, director of Animals Lebanon, a rescue organization that seeks homes for them and other zoo animals in protected areas overseas.
“From a DNA point of view, these are lions, but these are just two animals that have given up their lives and are here.”
In all five zoos in Lebanon, animals live in similar conditions, the victims of a financial crisis that plunged more than half the population into poverty and destroyed more than 90% of the value of the local currency.
A lion eats about 50 kilograms of food a week and costs 100,000 Lebanese pounds – or about $ 6 at informal market prices – per kilo. The monthly minimum wage is only Â£ 675,000.
“An entrance fee cannot cover the costs of keeping these animals properly,” said Mier.
Animals Lebanon has successfully relocated around 15 lions and tigers abroad in the past two years and around 250 other wild animals, cats and dogs in the past two years.
Two bears will travel to Colorado in the coming weeks and the rescue organization is hoping to send three more lions either there or to South Africa.
Above all, it tries to prevent what happened in zoos in war zones like Syria, Yemen and Iraq from happening in Lebanon before it is too late.
“The zoos are collapsing and animals are suffering and they either die in their cages or are sent to protected areas,” Mier said.
Reporting by Issam Abdallah, written by Maha El Dahan; Adaptation by John Stonestreet
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