A Picture, A Mystery, and Taiz Zoo

A picture surfaced of a dying lion. To the animal community on Facebook, this was a heartbreaking image that brought many questions. I, on medical leave from being a wildlife biologist, was both horrified and captivated.  Where was this? Where was this dying emaciated lion?  The first question was quickly answered with the location of Taiz, Yemen.  I, like so many others, wanted to know why and how could this have happened?  Was the lion dead and why was this lion nothing but a skeleton?  Was there anybody doing something for this poor animal?  Unfortunately, all the well known animal organizations were proclaiming that nothing could be done due to the extreme violence and civil war ongoing in Yemen.  Taiz, itself, was under siege and even aid agencies had been unable to enter from August of 2015 to January of 2016.  It was indeed a horrible situation but what about this lion.  Many had speculated that the lion was dead, that all of the animals in the zoo had been killed or had starved to death.  Although, no one had real proof that this was in fact the case.  Thankfully, that was not acceptable to a few of us, we had to know the truth and if there was any chance or hope of helping this lion or the animals in that zoo. 

In February 2016 contact was made with a Taiz resident, Hisham AlHoot, and he agreed to go to the zoo to find our answers.  I was invited to a group and we awaited the news.  The mystery of the dying lion and the zoo would finally be answered.  Anticipation was thick as we awaited the news on the zoo, that before, was only speculated about.  Mr. AlHoot agreed to go in with a camera an report back what he had discovered.  We had to know what had happened to the lion in the image and about this zoo that housed that poor animal. 

Finally, the day had arrived.  The mystery would be unlocked and known to the world.  Although, I know no one was prepared for what was discovered.  Unknown to me, those answers would indeed haunt me and drive my life and world in a whole new direction.  As Mr. AlHoot returned with both knowledge and photographic evidence, I can say, we were all shocked.  As he reported, that hundreds of animals were still alive but barely hanging on.  The zoo was closed and bankrupt.  The animals were locked in their prisons, that had, also, become their tombs.  There were dead carcasses littered about the zoo and a leopard, so desperate, he had cannibalized his mate. The animals had found hell and were living it.  However, they were alive and that is what was most important.  This new evidence immediately mobilized our group of volunteers, including myself, into life saving action.  A Generosity account was made and the fight to save these animals was now a go.  With the help of locals, we would save these precious animals from the certain death that awaited them.  This would begin my journey and launch a struggle to save Taiz zoo and its precious animals.