A man poses for a photo with a lion cub on the rooftop of Naseem Abu Jamea in Khan Youni. Reuters
It is a bizarre sight even in a war-scarred Gaza Strip that has become accustomed to the unaccustomed.
A boy plays with two pet lion cubs. Reuters
The 75-day-old male and female cubs, Fathy and Filisteen (Palestine), have become playthings for bored neighbours of their owner, bakery owner Naseem Abu Jamea, though animal experts expressed concern on hearing of the situation.
"It is my hobby, I was attached to them and I love to have them," Abu Jamea, 27, said. "I hope one day I can have my own zoo."
Abu Jamea said he got the cubs from a local zoo but declined to give further details.
As his nephews, brothers and neighbours' children played with the animals, he dismissed the risks.
Naseem Abu Jamea plays with his pet lion cubs. Reuters
"When you raise them as babies, a harmony will grow between both of you and (they) will not hurt you," he said.
However, Amir Khalil, a veterinarian who has led several trips to Gaza by the animal welfare organisation Four Paws to rescue mistreated zoo animals, said he was alarmed to hear about the cubs.
"I advise the Gaza authorities to take away those lions," Khalil told Reuters by phone from Pakistan. "At the age of six months a lion becomes more dangerous as his size gets bigger and his muscles become stronger."
Khalil also feared for the cubs' own welfare. "Raising lions at home may deprive them of health, sufficient food and medical care and may result in acute health problems. Especially to the muscles, joints and bones," he said.
Naseem Abu Jamea holds one of his two pet lion cubs on his house rooftop. Reuters
Gaza's zoos complain of a fall in visitor numbers, which harms their ability to feed and look after the animals properly.
Asked about the lion cubs, Hassan Azzam, director of veterinary services at Gaza's agriculture ministry, said they had received no complaints, but that the ministry intended to investigate.
"Palestinian law does not permit raising wild animals in people's homes," he said. "Wild animals must be kept in proper zoo houses."
The lion cubs' neighbours seemed untroubled. "I am not afraid. On the contrary, we are proud that we have lions in our area," said Wissam Al Qarra.
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