It's understandable that zoos in war-torn countries want to keep operating as usual. Hell, it's in those darker times that people need entertainment more than ever. And dammit, if a lack of exotic animals due to a blockade means you have to paint a donkey and call it a zebra, so be it!
Wait, that wasn't a metaphor?
Oh, yeah, that happened. That was at the Mahra Land Zoo in Gaza. Most people might have closed up shop after Israeli and Egyptian tanks occupied the land, but the staff of the Mahra Land Zoo are not those people. Quitting just isn't in the vocabulary of owner Ahmed Berghat, who continued to supply the zoo with new attractions, in spite of being unable to legally import wild animals.
He got around the blockade at first by bringing in animals through underground tunnels. Understandably, you can only drag so many lions through a hole in the ground before even someone as depressingly optimistic as the Mahra Land Zoo staff suggests that, hey, maybe we can just make do with what we've got here.
And what they had there ... were feral cats. No biggie; zoo keepers put a cage around some tabbies, and bam! Puma!
The tunnel smugglers offered Berghat to bring in a real zebra for $30,000 -- which for a zoo that has no patrons because it's full of tanks -- isn't exactly in the budget. But where a lesser man would look at his little patch of desert full of fenced-in house cats, tanks and a few peacocks escaping out the tank-sized hole in the gate and admit defeat, Berghat saw a chance to paint himself a zebra donkey.
The "You Get the Idea" exhibit.
"We cut its hair short and then painted the stripes," Berghat explained. "But don't tell anyone," he said. "The children love him." And to the five people who still risk their lives to go to the zoo full of cats and guns, that tatted up donkey is a bona-fide real-life zebra.
We've honestly never heard a story that so carefully straddled the line between inspirational and sad.
Though when it comes to perseverance in the face of adversity, the Mahra Land Zoo has nothing on zoos in Africa. The zoo in Kisangani, Zaire took persistence to new heights. We think.
Turns out, when the economy goes to hell and food is scarce, a trip to the zoo is like touring a grocery store. It's hard to justify tossing a goat to the lion every day when the people coming to look at the lion haven't eaten in a few days. And then it's just hard to keep your guests from looking at the lion and saying, "Hey, I could have eaten that."
Mmmm ... neck.
For instance, one day the staff came in to find a band of soldiers chowing down on their elephant. Things went downhill from there. Between some animals becoming a lunch worthy of Anthony Bourdain and others just deciding to walk the hell out, eventually the Kisangani Zoo found itself with exactly no animals. But the zoo never closed. Because the zoo wasn't precisely, technically empty. After all, it's not like dead elephants just disappear. There are still ... bones and stuff. So, staff continued to guide visitors through the empty park, pointing out animal skulls and "reminiscing" about that time they had that chimpanzee, and then it starved.
"Welcome to the museu- er, zoo!"
Meanwhile, things at the Byculla Zoo in Mumbai aren't quite that bad. But still, it's tough when a $200,000 zebra dies and replacing it means hiring a team of mercenaries to go poach a new one. Luckily, the Byculla Zoo figured out that, hey, these animals barely move anyway. You know where this is going -- they decided to just stuff their deceased residents.
"No, kids, he's just ... stunned. Stunned with happiness!"
But hey, according to the director, now the "public will be able to see and appreciate the animals and even study their body structure." Which is exactly why most of us go to the zoo, right? All we can say is they better position the stuffed monkey so that he's masturbating, or we're asking for our money back.