Wed, May 22, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Traumatized by conflict, animals find haven in Jordan

AFP, JERASH, Jordan

A bear gazes at people visiting the Al Ma’wa for Nature and Wildlife reserve in Jerash, Jordan, on April 10.

Photo: AFP

For more than a year after being moved to a Jordanian wildlife reserve from war-hit Syria, two bears, Loz and Sukkar, would cower whenever airplanes flew overhead, traumatized by past bombardments.

They are among dozens of animals that have been rescued from regional war zones, including the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip, and brought to the Jordanian Al Ma’wa for Nature and Wildlife.

The sanctuary located in Jerash Province was set up by the Princess Alia Foundation, named after the king’s sister, in cooperation with the international animal welfare organization Four Paws.

Sukkar (“sugar” in Arabic) and Loz (“almond”) are Asian black bears, now aged nine, who were trapped by war in the Magic World Zoo outside the Syrian city of Aleppo before being rescued in the summer of 2017.

“When they were brought here, they were terrified by the sounds of aircraft, especially helicopters, and for more than a year they would hide in a room inside their pens each time they heard airplanes go by,” caretaker Khaled Ayasra said.

The black bears are among 26 animals — eight lions, 12 lionesses, two Bengal tigers and four bears — who live in the sprawling 1.4km2 sanctuary in a wooded mountainous region.

Before they reach the sanctuary, the animals are taken to the New Hope Centre, a veterinary clinic linked to the reserve in Jerash, where they are provided with medical care and undergo rehabilitation.

Some are then sent back to their country of origin, while others are released into the wild or brought to the sanctuary to start a new life.

“In our sanctuaries the animals have the chance to recover from the hardships of their past and very often their natural instincts come back after a while,” said Martin Bauer, spokesman for the Vienna-based Four Paws.

Proper food and medical care is “extremely vital” for their well-being, but the animals must also be able to trust their caretakers and regain self-confidence, he said.

Loz and Sukkar have made huge strides since coming to Jordan.

“They are happier and love to play and meet visitors,” Ayasra said.

Workers at the sanctuary use all sorts of means to help the animals recuperate after years of hardship.

They are given a balanced diet, toys such as balls to play with and even an aromatherapy type of treatment — natural herbs and spices placed in pails inside their pens — to help them relax.

Bears eat 16kg of fruit and vegetables a day, while the lions are given 7kg to 15kg of meat three times a week.

Sultan, the lion, and Sabreen, a lioness, are among the animals who found a new lease on life at the Ma’wa, after their rescue by Four Paws in 2014 from a Gaza zoo following an Israeli bombardment.

“Sultan was very, very nervous and would destroy everything he found inside his enclosure,” Ayasra said. “But now he has calmed down and likes to greet visitors.”

Al Ma’wa CEO Marek Trela, a Polish veterinary surgeon, said that the sanctuary aims to “give a better life to animals who have suffered in different ways.”

The wildlife reserve “is very similar to their natural habitat” and helps them to thrive as they return to an uncrowded, natural environment, he said.

“If they like to see people they can... If they don’t want to, they hide in the forest and they live their own life. That is what we are trying to give them after the hard time they had,” Trela said.

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