“I managed to walk calmly to the highway and, thank God, found a bus quickly to return to Damascus,” Samir writes after having gone to the small shelter on the outskirts of Damascus, where he has been caring for 19 cats and 7 wild animals, for the past several years. (To protect his safety, Samir is not his real name.)
On Thursday October 4, he went, as he does nearly every day, to feed the animals and clean their areas. After he was there for a few minutes, he could hear renewed fighting on the other side of the highway. “It got very loud and even included fighter jets.” On every trip there he walks through fields overlooked by snipers, hence the need to walk slowly and calmly, to indicate that he belongs in the area and is a civilian going about his normal affairs, so as not to draw fire.
Nineteen cats and seven wild animals
Although they are all rescues, the cats are sweet and friendly. Bella and Bubbles are black torties. Two red tabbies, Shanonti and Habobi, are neutered males, they are litter mates — pals, who have always lived together. Mishmoush is an orange tabby, a little slower now than he used to be; he loves to be talked to.
Nineteen cats in all live at the shelter; nearly all the males are neutered, and those who are not are kept separately. Without a lot of funds, the females have not been spayed yet, a fact which will certainly be remedied. Accustomed to being indoors, they rarely venture out, not even down to the lower floor, which used to be a residence, but is now abandoned. One or two will go out into the walled yard.
Very resourcefully, Samir has now recruited neighbors still living in the area, to feed the animals and do cleaning if he has to miss a day due to a curfew. The electricity is on and off, mostly off, but he has managed to rig up another electrical source. Electricity allows the water bowls to be filled with fresh water and the cleaning to be done efficiently.
The seven wild animals were used as a tourist attraction by a restaurant, which when the war came, was closed and abandoned. Of course, being a tourist attraction is not a life for any wild animal.
Leaving the restaurant life behind
After the restaurant owners fled, there was no one to feed the animals. Samir took them in, housing them near the cats, and has done the best that could be done in the circumstances to provide good habitats. All were either captive bred or had been raised in captivity and are habituated to humans; therefore not releasable back to the wild.
Normally, special wildlife permits would be needed, but these are anything but normal circumstances. These animals also, to be safe, need to leave Syria. Two are birds. A barn owl is a lively, healthy fellow, who keeps his feet in good shape by perching on large tree limbs. Good perches are essential for birds in captivity.
A golden eagle came originally from an old traditional market, where she used to be kept in a tiny cage. The old market, which sold animals, was closed long ago. She is flightless. Fortunately, she enjoys having a lot more room now than she had before – though an even bigger space would be better.
Three Asiatic jackals, one Arabian fox, and one jungle cat, are doing well, and have no health issues, though the jungle cat, Aurora, is, understandably, a bit skittish.
A wonderful wildlife centre in Jordan, the Al Ma’wa Centre for Nature and Wildlife, has very kindly offered to take the animals. How to get them to Jordan, through the fighter jets, the snipers, and the falling missiles – and then along a road that may or may not be safe, and may or may not be closed, is a big challenge, but Samir is a determined man and does not give up easily.
Continued in Part Two…
To read Part Two, click here.
Photos: Courtesy of Animals Lebanon. / These photos are not of Samir’s animals. Instead they are photos of some of Animal Lebanon’s adoptable cats, who have offered to stand in. You can read their stories on Animal Lebanon’s website; click here.
We are just beginning to receive photos of Samir’s animals. You can see the first one in Part Two of this story.
We hope soon to be able to post photos of the Syrian animals, as well as the Al Ma’wa Centre for Nature and Wildlife in Jordan and the ESAF shelter in Cairo.