Monday, December 13, 2021 at Animal City Zoo in Zikrit, Metn, on a sunny day, little Jude and his family thought they had a moment of relaxation and discovery. However, their visit to the zoo quickly became tragic due to an incident involving a lioness who nearly killed the four-year-old boy: he has five scars and heavy trauma.
“The lion enclosure consisted of three cages that were open to each other,” says L’Orient-Le Jour, the grandfather of the victim, who wished to remain anonymous. The lion and the lioness lay in the middle cage. Two of my grandchildren were left to me, while the third, Jude, went straight to the cat house to take a closer look. ”
Comes the fear. “In a fraction of a second, the lioness left her first cage to hurry toward the outer bars where Jude stood,” describes the grandfather. “The leaf wind then clung violently to him and tried to get him into his cage, he says, still under the influence of emotions. We, my driver and I, hurried to grab Jude and save him from the cat’s claws. It succeeded, thanks to providence and good reflexes. However, he escaped with several deep wounds in his neck, chest and hand. In an attempt to save him, we were also injured, my driver and I. »
When the grandfather himself was a doctor, he was able to save his grandson. “I immediately noticed that no vital blood vessels were affected. I took him directly to the hospital, where he underwent several surgeries and was taken care of by a psychologist.”
With a hoarse voice betraying his feelings, which are still to be taken and felt for several weeks after the tragedy, the man confides to L’OLJ that “it can not occur to anyone to be on guard and guess that the most basal is not secured around a cage with wild animals “.
For separation only, with spaced bars
According to Jude’s grandfather, the incident could have been avoided if zoo officials had taken the necessary safety precautions. He assures L’OLJ that the cages, according to his observations, were poorly maintained and that the staff lacked for their surveillance and protection of visitors. “This incident is explained by the fact that the only separation between the animal and the visitors consists of bars that are too far apart, with a total lack of other security measures,” he laments.
Jude’s parents, who are of English and Australian nationality, filed a complaint after the incident. The family lives abroad and was in Lebanon on vacation. Their lawyer, Hassan el-Mawla, tells L’OLJ that the case is now in the hands of the courts and that the zoo has been closed until the end of the investigation.
“Our indictment is primarily based on an article in the Penal Code, which punishes negligence and recklessness with five to six months in prison, in the event that the offense would not have caused more than 20 days of inactivity for the victim.,” Me Mawla explains. Article 27 of the Animal Welfare Act, which describes the procedures to be followed and the public safety measures to be complied with in zoos. Failure to comply with these measures may cost the offender three months to two years ‘imprisonment.’
The lawyer emphasizes other irregularities committed, according to him, by the owners of the zoo. “Immediately after the attack, they did everything to remove evidence of possible negligence on their part, including rearranging the cage and the safe areas around it. At the time of the incident, however, my clients confirm that no safety precautions were observed: In all zoos in the world “Potentially dangerous animals are kept several meters away from visitors thanks to water barriers and glass insulators, which was not the case at Animal City,” said Me Mawla.
The family’s lawyer also mentions a circular from mohafez from Mount Lebanon, published on December 20, 2021 and with the number 2252 / a / 2021, in which he orders “the closure of Animal City Zoo to the public (…) until it complies with the current standards. ”In this text, mohafez believes the incident happened” due to failure to take the necessary measures to ensure the safety of its visitors “, and even stresses that” the zoo does not have a legal license “.
An “exaggerated” version …
These allegations are rejected by the zoo management. Alain Lichaa el-Khoury, lawyer for the Gesco Entertainment company that operates Animal City (belonging to Samir Ghattas), points out to L’OLJ that the zoo has been in operation since 2005 and that no accident of this type had taken place. before. The lawyer describes the version of the little Judas family as “exaggerated” and assures that the owners of the park take all safety precautions, after planning a set of iron barriers and small walls, such as the one built in front of the cage of the lion where the incident took place place. “An extra barrier has been erected between the cage and the visitors’ driveway, and it was there during the incident. This barrier can certainly be moved, but only by an adult and not by a small child “, clarifies Me Khoury and suggests a responsibility for the adults who accompanied the boy. “I was not present at the scene, but the logic dictates that the child would only be able to access the cage with the help of one of the adults who accompanied him, perhaps to take pictures for example,” he says. However, the lawyer assures that the company is “ready to take full responsibility for the physical and mental compensation of the child, in case of current or future injuries”.
Alain Lichaa el-Khoury also denies all allegations related to the start of work after the incident. “There was no intention to change the scene of the incident or to break the law. Justice and Antelia’s police station have sent a team to ensure the security measures adopted inside the park,” he said, before specifying that the zoo actually is legal, contrary to the claims of mohafez. from Mount Lebanon …
A far from unique event
Activist Ghina Nahfawi, who has long fought for animal rights, sweeps away all this argument, pointing to “clear and unequivocal negligence on the part of zoo owners”, which endangers visitors and animals. She points out that the zoo’s website and social media accounts show visitors close to the animals, feeding them, touching them and even carrying them in their arms, which is “unacceptable and strictly forbidden under international rules”.
These observations are confirmed by other testimonies from parents collected by OLJ, which show that this is not the zoo’s first violation. One mother says that on the day she took her three-year-old daughter there in October last year, the zoo offered visitors the chance to approach newborn lion cubs, pet them and feed them. “There was a separate line you had to buy an extra ticket, I found it absurd to see people take selfies with these poor beasts,” says this mother. These female lion cubs born in June, visibly separated from their mother, were thus exposed to visitors all day long.
She even had an accident. At the entrance to the zoo, a bag of fruit and vegetables was offered for sale so that visitors could feed the animals themselves. “My daughter handed a quarter of an apple to a wild boar, but the mask was not nice enough, which made the animal bite its hand. I had to push the beast in order for it to let go. We walked around the zoo, but there was no relief station or staff to report the incident to. She only had a few bruises, but she had to take antibiotics because we did not know if the animals were well vaccinated, ”says this mother, who, however, confirms that certain warnings had been put on enclosures. “But it is not appropriate to be allowed to feed the animals. »
“Animal City breaks all the rules,” Ghina Nahfawi continues. We have plenty of evidence that animals are being abused. As for the lions, the zoo had installed a glass structure a few months ago so visitors could approach them and provoke them. A video of this attraction has also gone viral on social networks. The activist associates this absurd episode with the aggressiveness of the lioness. “This can only cause severe frustration in the animal, which then identifies humans with an enemy and a predator. Malnutrition, probably due to the economic crisis, can exacerbate this behavior.” Each lion eats an average of 10 kilos of meat a day, again according to Animal City’s official website, “the activist adds.
“We do not have the power to order the closure of zoos”
Ghina Nahfawi confirms that “the majority of zoos in Lebanon do not respect international standards and the necessary safety measures still formally defined in the Animal Welfare Act adopted in 2017”, questioning the Minister of Agriculture, who “should have made the decision to close zoos with the same without allowing the owners to change the scene of the incident. ”“ What happened is a crime against the lion and the child, ”she said at last.
Contacted by OLJ, Agriculture Minister Abbas Hajj Hassan defends himself against any negligence, saying there is confusion over the application of the Animal Welfare Act of 2017. “The text is very clear, but it remains confused as to its application and the powers of the authorities and ministries concerned. , he assures. Thus, a zoo license is not obtained from the Ministry of Agriculture, but is granted by the municipalities and mohafez, directly affiliated with the Ministry of the Interior. Therefore, it is not up to us to order zoos closed if they do not comply with the rules. »
The Minister adds that his administration, which is responsible for conducting animal health tests to ensure that they do not suffer from diseases that can be transmitted to humans, can only sanction such an institution in this specific case.
However, Abbas Hajj Hassan invites the parties involved in this case to meet to define each individual’s responsibilities. “If the division of labor involves action on our part in an incident like this, we will take full responsibility,” he concludes, urging municipalities and Mohafez to take the necessary action in the meantime. .
Official statements that seem insignificant to Judah’s grandfather. “The images of this lioness trying to swallow my granddaughter have not left me a second ago. I’m traumatized for life,” he says.
Monday, December 13, 2021 at Animal City Zoo in Zikrit, Metn, on a sunny day, little Jude and his family thought they had a moment of relaxation and discovery. However, their visit to the zoo quickly became tragic due to an incident involving a lioness who nearly killed the four-year-old boy: he has five scars and a …