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Zoo Cut Lion's Claws So She'd Be Friendly, Could Play With Child Visitors

A zoo recently cut the claws of a lioness in an effort to make her friendlier so visitors could interact with her when they came to see the big cat.

The lioness, who is 14 months old and named “Falestine,” lives at the Rafah Zoo in Gaza and still has her teeth, but had her claws removed during an operation. Pictures of the incident showed zoo workers holding a bag over the lion’s head as Palestinian veterinarian Fayyaz al-Haddad clipped her claws down, according to Getty.

The original procedure occurred about two weeks ago, as reported by Fox News. For the initial operation, which occurred at the zoo, the 14-month-old was tranquilized.

"The claws were cut so that they would not grow fast and visitors and children could play with her," Al-Haddad told Fox News.

Mohammed Jumaa, the park’s owner, told The Times of Israel that by declawing the lioness, he hoped to reduce her aggression so “it can be friendly with visitors.” While the idea of playing with a lion may seem appealing, animal rights activists criticized the zoo for cruelly removing the lion’s claws.

rafah zoo in gaza cut lion's claws so she could play with child visitors Palestinian veterinarian Fayyaz al-Haddad, holds the paw of the lioness 'Falestine' as he prepares to declaw her at the Rafah Zoo in the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday. SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images

"For big cats, removing the claws is a particularly vicious procedure which causes long-lasting damage,” Four Paws, an international animal welfare charity, told the Daily Mirror. “Natural behavior, such as grabbing food or climbing, is hardly possible without an animal’s claws. Since the amputation was not done in a proper vet clinic, the chance of infection is high."

Al-Haddad denied that the process was cruel, but the Paw Project, a non-government organization, said the surgery can be “an extremely painful procedure” with health risks and complications. The organization said the process requires a veterinarian to cut off the last knuckle of a cat’s paw, which would be the equivalent of amputating each finger or toe to the last joint.

“We strongly demand the closure of this zoo, where over 40 more animals are being kept in horrible conditions,” Four Paws said.

lion declawed rafah zoo play with kids Palestinian children look through the bars of a cage at the declawed lioness 'Falestine' at the Rafah Zoo in the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday. SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images

This isn’t the first time that the zoo has done something to ire Four Paws and the organization said that numerous animals are “currently suffering” at the facility. In January, four lion cubs died and the zoo’s co-owner blamed the cold weather, according to the Associated Press. He claimed that he covered the cage with a blanket, but in the morning, found the cubs in the cage, deceased.

“The zoo in Rafah is well known to us,” Four Paws said. “In 2015, the owner of the zoo sold the two lion cubs Max and Mona to a local who gave them to his grandchildren. We confiscated the cubs and brought them to Al Ma'wa for Nature & Wildlife sanctuary in Jordan.”

However, it’s unclear if the zoo will close any time soon. It’s been in the Jumaa family since it opened in the 1990s and despite it not being financially viable, zookeeper Jihad Jumaa said he doesn’t have any plans to shut their doors.

"It's our source of life," he told Al Jazeera in 2015. "I was raised here and will continue to work and fight to keep it open."

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