Caption: Mahmod Berghote stands with one of Marah Zoo’s world famous painted donkeys. The zoo’s two white donkeys caused an international media frenzy after Mahmod and his brother spent three days painting stripes onto them using black hair dye. Unable to find an animal trader to bring a real zebra through the tunnels from Egypt, the Berghote family decided to make a fake pair using white donkeys. The story was reported all over the world as a feel good news piece and often used as an example of the Palestinian people’s resourcefulness during the siege of Gaza.

Anastasia Taylor-Lind for VII Photo published a remarkable photo essay about the zoos of Gaza.

The idea that imprisoned people can make a business out of smuggling, locking up, and exhibiting animals is deeply ironic. There are about a dozen zoos in Gaza and their story is intertwined with world politics in a way that would be unimaginable anywhere else.

In 2005, Dr. Saud Shawa, a veterinarian, decided to establish Palestine’s National Zoo. For Shawa, this was about education and showing people how to care for animals. Supported by international donors, he built a spacious compound with big cages, a theatre, a library and research centre – Gaza Zoo, the first one ever in the strip.

Gaza zoo opened in January 2006, the same month Hamas, the radical Islamist movement, won elections in Gaza. The border was closed and the initiative was halted before it could get started.

As of today, not a single zoo has been profitable. In fact, there is only one person in the Gaza strip who benefits from the business: Abu Nadal Khalid, an animal trader. He has animals drugged and smuggled through the infamous system of tunnels leading from Egypt into the strip.