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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 July 2006, 13:29 GMT 14:29 UK
Plight of animals at Haifa Zoo
By Raffi Berg
BBC News, Haifa

Buba the bear, Haifa Zoo
Buba is confined to her concrete sleeping quarters

Buba the bear is not well. She has been locked inside for most of the past nine days and the effects are beginning to show.

"She has developed an abscess on her leg and I am worried about her," said Dr Etty Ararat, the director of Haifa Zoo.

Like all the mammals at the zoo, Buba, an eight-year-old Brown Syrian bear, has been confined to her concrete sleeping quarters for her own safety as the city is bombarded by missiles from Lebanon.

"The bears are not stressed by the air raid sirens but they don't understand why they have to be inside all the time," said Dr Ararat.

The staff at the zoo cannot take any chances. Sirens sound repeatedly throughout the day and where rockets have landed the effects have been devastating.

The animals are let out under supervision for short periods, but when the alarms sound they are hurriedly ushered back in.

Search for food

Of the zoo's regular 40-strong staff, Dr Ararat is one of only four who remain at the eight-acre site to take care of 1,000 animals, despite the danger.

The zoo's plight is made worse by the fact that the conflict has forced it to close to the public at what should be its busiest time of the year.

Dr Etty Ararat, Haifa Zoo
I hope it will end soon - it's no good, for people or animals
Dr Etty Ararat

"In July and August we get about 3,000 people a day but now we are losing money every day, which will have an impact on everything," Dr Ararat said.

"Also, our suppliers are closed, so trying to find food for the animals is a mission these days, when usually it's not, and we need help."

As she makes her rounds, Dr Ararat stops at the big cats enclosure, a spacious, sculpted compound where the lions, tigers and leopards normally roam free. But here, too, the animals are languishing indoors, with just enough space to pace or lie on the floor.

The conditions are taking their toll on Barbara, an elderly 32-year-old Bengal tiger, who first arrived at the zoo, starving, some 20 years ago after being abandoned by a travelling circus.

"Barbara is depressed," said Dr Ararat. "She likes to play outside but since she has been in here she has stopped playing. She usually comes to me, but now she doesn't pay any attention."

Anxious baboons

Next door, three African lions - Simba, Jungle and Gov - sit in their small indoor compound, watching with suspicion as I enter.

They barely stir but begin to growl as I move closer, making me wonder if the warring has left their nerves on edge.

Sarah the Siberian tiger, Haifa Zoo
The big cats are being kept indoors to prevent them escaping

"Actually, the sirens don't have any effect on them," Dr Ararat said. "All big cats are lazy and they don't seem to mind being in here, so long as we bring them food. But of course, it's not good for them."

The carnivores are also kept inside for another reason. The bars of the lions' enclosure were recently replaced with glass, which could be shattered by an exploding missile.

"If the glass breaks and they get free, it would be dangerous for all the people in the town," said Dr Ararat.

Of all the animals in the zoo, the worst affected by the sirens and intermittent booms are the 17 baboons.

"We can see the change in their behaviour," said Dr Arafat. "They are very anxious to get out and they are starting to knock on the doors.

"Today we gave the baboons a treat of popcorn, which they love. At the moment they're still eating and if we see any signs of stress then of course we will act accordingly."

Dr Ararat says the longer the war continues, the worse it will get for the zoo.

"I hope it will end soon - it's no good, for people or animals. But I am a born optimist and one way or another, the zoo will survive."

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