By DELPINE MATHIEUSSENT
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
HAIFA, Israel — The baboons got stressed, the lions got fat and zoo officials worry the antelopes might have heart attacks. After 34 days in indoor shelters, many of the animals at the Haifa Zoo got a breath of outdoor air – if not a taste of freedom – for the first time on Tuesday.
Zoo officials moved all the carnivores, bears and monkeys indoors at the start of the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, both to protect them from rocket strikes and to keep an errant missile on a retaining wall from setting them loose into Israel’s third-largest city.
“The lions gained weight, but they look basically OK,” said zoo manager Etty Ararat as he released them outdoors on Tuesday. Hours before, the lions roared and flashed their teeth at reporters who visited them at the 3 by 2-meter- (yard) indoor cages where they were confined for more than a month.
“Baboons suffered from stress,” Ararat said.
Most of all, she worried about the more fragile animals, like the gazelles, who had to stay outside while thousands of explosions went off around them.
“These animals sometimes die instantly from a heart attack several weeks after they were traumatized,” he said.
But all the animals seemed pleased with the declaration of a cease-fire on Monday.
“They’re thrilled, very happy. It’s like a new place for them,” said veterinarian Ayelet Shmueli.
A troop of baboons scrambled to get outside through a little gate before it was even fully opened on the first day they were allowed out. Bears paced nervously, and a tiger blinked hard in the morning sun.
“But we don’t know what will be the impact of the fact they were enclosed for so long,” Shmueli said.
While indoors, zoo officials were forced to get creative to keep the animals from going crazy.
“We hung sacks of meat on the ceilings of the leopards’ and tigers’ cages so they had to jump to get them,” zookeeper Yoav Ratner said. The handlers stuffed pumpkins full of meat, he added. They filled bamboo poles with jelly “so the monkeys had to do a bit of work to get the jelly,” he said.
The war also hurt the zoo itself. July and August, usually the busiest months for visitors, were completely wiped out financially because of the war.
“We had no revenues and I had a lot of extra expenses,” Ararat, the manager said. Those expenses included buying meat the zoo usually got for free because markets had shut down, and buying tranquilizers just in case one of the animals got loose in the city, he said.