9 starving animals rescued from abandoned zoo in war-torn Aleppo, more remain

PHOTO: An injured lion is given water while being transported to Turkey after being rescued from Syrias Aleppo zoo, July 22, 2017. PlayAhu Savan An/Four Paws
WATCH 9 starving animals rescued from abandoned zoo in war-torn Aleppo, but more remain trapped

Nine animals on the brink of starvation have been rescued from an abandoned zoo in war-torn Aleppo, Syria. But more animals remain trapped.

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Animal welfare charity Four Paws International said it launched the high-risk operation last Friday and coordinated with security experts to evacuate three lions, two tigers, two Asian black bears and two hyenas from the amusement park Aalim al-Sahar, or "Magic World," with permission from the owner, who had fled to the United States five years ago.

PHOTO: A bear is carried by members of Four Paws during transportation from Syrias destroyed Aleppo zoo to Turkey, July 23, 2017. Ahu Savan An/Four Paws
A bear is carried by members of Four Paws during transportation from Syria's destroyed Aleppo zoo to Turkey, July 23, 2017.

After the Syrian civil war began in 2011 and fighting intensified in Aleppo, the zoo's caretakers were forced to abandon its inhabitants, who are locked in their barren cages and unable to escape the conflict around them. The zoo itself has been severely damaged from shelling, and several animals have either died in the crossfire or starved to death, according to Four Paws veterinarian Amir Khalil who led the dangerous mission.

"The ongoing war has taken its toll on the animals. The lack of water, food, and veterinary care has left the animals physically and psychologically traumatized. Several animals were killed by severe bombings. There was no way for them to escape from this deadly trap,” Khalil said.

PHOTO: A tiger is loaded into a Turkish truck from a Syrian vehicle during transportation to Turkey after being rescued from Syrias Aleppo zoo. Ahu Savan An/Four Paws
A tiger is loaded into a Turkish truck from a Syrian vehicle during transportation to Turkey after being rescued from Syria's Aleppo zoo.

Aleppo is now under government control. But just last year, Aleppo was the battlefield of a months-long siege as government forces and opposition groups fought for control over the eastern half of the divided city.

Today, portions of the city devastated by the conflict are still far from recovery.

“The ever-deteriorating situation of the animals worried us. With our mission, we want to spread the message that humanity cannot be divided and that these suffering animals deserve to be heard and seen," Khalil added. "Also, wild animals, such as bears and big cats, trapped in desolate enclosures can quickly pose a threat to humans.”

PHOTO: Several animals trapped in Syrias destroyed Aleppo zoo were rescued by members of Four Paws and transported to Turkey, July 21, 2017. Ahu Savan An/Four Paws
Several animals trapped in Syria's destroyed Aleppo zoo were rescued by members of Four Paws and transported to Turkey, July 21, 2017.

Khalil, along with a team of local veterinarians and security advisers, entered the derelict zoo amid the ongoing conflict and loaded the nine animals into cages on transport trucks. The animals were emaciated, dehydrated, exhausted and traumatized, with some suffering from minor wounds, according to Four Paws.

Khalil and his team then hastened the trucks across the Syria-Turkey border where they met other team members. The animals received basic medical care, water and food during their journey, which has been supported by Turkish animal welfare activists.

PHOTO: Several animals rescued from Syrias Aleppo zoo receive basic medical care, water and food during their transportation to Turkey, July 22, 2017. Ahu Savan An/Four Paws
Several animals rescued from Syria's Aleppo zoo receive basic medical care, water and food during their transportation to Turkey, July 22, 2017.

After a 24-hour road trip through Turkey, the animals arrived safely at an animal protection center in Karacabey, some 70 miles west of the city of Bursa, according to Four Paws.

"The journey across Turkey was a tiring affair for all of us. Due to the extreme heat, we had to stop every three to four hours to check on the conditions of the animals and provide them with water,” Khalil said. “We are thrilled that we were able to bring the animals safely to their first destination.”

PHOTO: A tiger is carried in a stretcher to receive medical treatment from Four Paws in Bursa, Turkey, July 26, 2017, after being rescued from Syrias Aleppo zoo. Ali Atmaca/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
A tiger is carried in a stretcher to receive medical treatment from Four Paws in Bursa, Turkey, July 26, 2017, after being rescued from Syria's Aleppo zoo.

While at their temporary home in Karacabey, the animals will receive medical treatment and comprehensive examinations this week, including blood tests, ultrasounds and eye checkups. Once their conditions improve, each animal will be relocated to a permanent, species-appropriate home in a sanctuary, according to Four Paws.

"For the first time, these animals are receiving thorough medical examinations by experts working with sophisticated equipment,” said Frank Göritz, one of the local veterinarians supporting the Four Paws team.

PHOTO: A tiger rescued from Syrias Aleppo zoo receives a medical treatment from members of Four Paws, in Bursa, Turkey, July 26, 2017. Ali Atmaca/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
A tiger rescued from Syria's Aleppo zoo receives a medical treatment from members of Four Paws, in Bursa, Turkey, July 26, 2017.

This is not the first time Khalil, a 52-year-old Egyptian native, has helped animals in conflict or disaster zones. He is specifically trained to do so. He saved animals at Libya’s Tripoli Zoo after the 2011 uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi and rescued animals from Iraq’s Baghdad Zoo after the 2003 U.S. invasion.

In August 2016 he and his rescue team evacuated all 15 remaining animals at the Khan Younis Zoo, dubbed the worst zoo in the world, in the besieged Gaza Strip. After receiving veterinary attention, the animals were transported to sanctuaries in Jordan, South Africa and elsewhere.

PHOTO: A member of Four Paws checks on a lion rescued from Syrias Aleppo Zoo in Bursa, Turkey, July 26, 2017. Ali Atmaca/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
A member of Four Paws checks on a lion rescued from Syria's Aleppo Zoo in Bursa, Turkey, July 26, 2017.

In February, Khalil led a rapid response team from Vienna-based Four Paws to rescue the last two surviving animals from the Montazah al-Morour Zoo in Mosul, the site of a brutal struggle since ISIS took over the Iraqi city in 2014.

On July 10, Iraqi authorities declared "total victory" over the terrorist group in Mosul.

PHOTO: A rescued hyena from Syrias Aleppo zoo looks out from a cage in Bursa, Turkey, July 26, 2017. Ali Atmaca/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
A rescued hyena from Syria's Aleppo zoo looks out from a cage in Bursa, Turkey, July 26, 2017.

For the other surviving zoo animals still trapped in Aleppo, Khalil said he is determined to return with his team soon to evacuate them, too.

“We are currently working hard with our partners to get the remaining animals out of the zoo," he said. "We are not giving up on the remaining animals."

PHOTO: A lion looks out from his cage after being rescued from Syrias Aleppo zoo and arriving in Bursa, Turkey, July 26, 2017. Ali Atmaca/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
A lion looks out from his cage after being rescued from Syria's Aleppo zoo and arriving in Bursa, Turkey, July 26, 2017.