Naama Barak
January 4

War is the most horrid human invention, but unfortunately it also affects animals. And the war raging between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip is no different.

Whether caught in the crossfire, actively participating in it, or trying to shelter from the damage, animals are a silent sideshow to mankind’s violence. 

We thought to shed light on some of the more unexpected animal stories emerging from the war to provide you some respite from the morbid news cycle. 

May it all end soon, for all of us creatures here.

1. The dog that Hamas kidnapped

Mia Leimberg and Bella after their release from captivity on November 28, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg Flash90
Mia Leimberg and Bella after their release from captivity on November 28, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg Flash90

Mia Leimberg, a 17-year-old from Jerusalem, was kidnapped by Hamas terrorists from the southern community of Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak while she was visiting family. They dragged her to the Gaza Strip with other family members and, to Hamas’ surprise, her pet dog, Bella. 

The terrorists discovered that Mia was clutching Bella only once inside the Gaza Strip, and Mia says that having Bella helped her navigate captivity.

After almost two months, Mia was freed together with her mother and aunt, while her uncle and her aunt’s partner remain hostage in Gaza. 

The photo of Mia emerging from captivity with Bella in her arms was a jaw-dropping moment for Israelis. It radiated hope and, perhaps above all, strength – the strength of a young woman who made it back from hell. 

2. A parrot’s VIP ambulance ride

12 unexpected animal stories from the Israel-Gaza war
Iron Parrot, rescued from Kfar Aza. Photo courtesy of Magen David Adom

A few days after the massacre in the southwest community of Kibbutz Kfar Aza, search-and-rescue personnel came across a miserable parrot stuck in a cage on its own. With everyone else from the kibbutz gone – drafted, evacuated or murdered – the rescuers decided to shuttle him by ambulance to a Magen David Adom emergency medical station in Ashdod.

“In emergency situations, no questions are asked. I brought the parrot into the station and we quickly fed him and gave him water, because according to our calculations he was alone for three days and must have had some difficult moments,” said Nahum David, deputy director of MDA’s Lachish Region.

The parrot has been nicknamed Iron Parrot and is patiently awaiting the return of his human from reserve military duty.

3. Dogs keep soldiers safe 

The Israeli military’s famous canine unit, Oketz, is now operating deep in the Gaza Strip. 

These dogs in military service track explosives and dangers, indicating to the human fighters where to go and what to avoid. Some of the dogs unfortunately have been wounded or killed in active service, but many more continue to save lives. Those that are killed receive an official military funeral, to salute their service.

4. Israeli fighter dog undergoes hyperbaric oxygen therapy

When Prof. Shai Efrati, director of hyperbaric medicine and research at the Yitzhak Shamir Medical Center, was asked to treat a dog using his cutting-edge technology, he initially thought to himself, “No.”

But upon learning that the intended patient was Mikey, a fighter dog from the elite canine unit Oketz, he immediately said yes. Mikey was wounded by a grenade while fighting in Gaza, which led to a loss of one eye, a broken leg, shrapnel wounds and brain damage. After traditional treatment offered her little help, she was brought for treatment in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, where oxygen was flooded into her bloodstream to help overcome her injuries – especially the brain damage.

The results, Efrati notes, were astounding, and even more immediate than those seen in humans. Mikey can now walk and understand her surroundings, and her recovery is meant to improve even further, thanks to the top-quality treatment that Israel’s brave fighters – dogs included – are receiving since the war broke out.

5. Puppies visit wounded in hospitals

It’s no secret that dogs can make everything better, including a hospital stay. 

Since the war broke out, a group of wounded IDF veterans and dog foster families have been making rounds in Israeli hospital with their service dogs to bring cheer, cuddles and endlessly cute moments to wounded soldiers, their families and hospital staff.

The volunteer project is a collaboration with IDF health personnel, army bases and hospitals, and is spearheaded by IDF officer Meitar Sela, whose own service dog has been aiding her in dealing with PTSD following the 2014 Gaza war. 

As the initiative’s Instagram demonstrates, the dogs do absolute wonders, warming the hearts of everyone they encounter.

6. Exotic animals relocate to safety

Kibbutz Be’eri, one of the worst-hit communities in the October 7 massacre, had a small zoo. When survivors were evacuated, the animals initially remained without care. That is, until the Israel Nature and Parks Authority evacuated the iguanas, meerkats, lemurs and other zoo residents from the war zone within a matter of days, moving them to safer havens.

Animals have been rescued from other enclosures in frontline communities as well, and we wish them all a swift and safe return home.  

7. Israel’s bat woman rescues animals 

Nora Lifshitz is known in Israel as “bat woman” for her work as the founder and main operator of the country’s bat sanctuary. But after the Hamas attacks on October 7, she became the savior of all the animals she could find – including dogs, cats, parrots, rabbits and a goat.

“I’m good at ‘stealing’ animals when needed,” she told ISRAEL21c jokingly while extracting stranded animals from near the Gaza Strip at the beginning of the war. “I love all animals, and I have abilities in this field.” 

8. Birds of prey help locate bodies 

On October 7, Hamas massacred approximately 1,200 Israelis. In the following weeks, military and rescue personnel recovered bodies from multiple Gaza border communities

To help these efforts, the Israeli military asked the Israel Nature and Parks Authority for the location of birds of prey that carry transmitters in the area. Multiple corpses were indeed discovered by tracking the movements of these birds.

9. Dogs, cats, hyenas rescued by soldiers

As the Israeli military operates in the Gaza Strip and along the border, countless stray animals – some of them belonging to massacred or evacuated residents, others native to what is now a warzone – have been picked up by soldiers and sent to foster families, rescue centers and sometimes even their own unsuspecting families.

They’ve rescued many cats, dogs and, in one case shown below, a hyena pup, showcasing humanity and care in these difficult times. 

In other instances, soldiers have been filmed aiding and feeding farm animals such as horses, donkeys, fowl and sheep. In another case, a reserves paratrooper called Ariel Schuber managed to rescue an owl, when he noticed that it wasn’t moving.

He called up the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, which sent over a volunteer animal ambulance who came to pick up the little creature and took him to the wild animal hospital at the safari.

“A huge thanks to the IDF soldiers, who since the beginning of the war have helped save many animals on the northern border and in the Gaza Strip,” the INPA posted on Facebook.

זה אחד הסיפורים המתוקים ששמענו, ולכן נביא אותו בדיוק כפי שקיבלנו אותו מאריאל שוובר, חייל מילואים בגדוד 9255 של חטיבה…

Posted by ‎רשות הטבע והגנים‎ on Monday, January 1, 2024

10. Zoo animals learn how to shelter from rockets

In the last few months, rocket sirens have unfortunately become a regular occurrence, and Israelis well-rehearsed in running for shelter when they occur. 

Not only humans have learned how to deal with the situation, but animals too. The baboons at the Midbarium Desert Animal Park in Beersheba, for example, have been heading to shelter under frequent rocket attacks, while the chimpanzees at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo know that a staff member waits for them in the shelter with a banana when a siren goes off.

11. Soldiers rescue a fox 

A fox rescued from a barrel by reserve officer Shachar Peleg. Photo courtesy of INPA

When reserve officer Shachar Peleg heard a strange noise emanating from an old barrel located in his battalion’s fire training area in the country’s north, he went to check it out. To his surprise, he and his friends found an exhausted, petrified fox stuck inside. 

“We were in the fire training area and I heard this weird noise, and then we found the fox stuck inside the barrel,” Peleg told the INPA. “When he came out, I said to him, ‘You don’t bite me, and I’ll make sure you get help.’ We both kept our word.”

The soldiers used a metal rod to excavate him from the barrel, gave him some water and contacted the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, which brought the fox for veterinary care.

12. Pets reunited with families

When Hamas launched its attack on Israel’s southwest, all hell broke loose. And in the mayhem, many families were forced to flee their homes without their beloved pets. 

In the first few weeks of the war, brave civilians volunteered to go back down to the devastated communities in search of pets that have stayed behind, helping reunite them with their loving families.

In other cases, pets patiently waited for their humans to be released from captivity in Gaza, and on a few happy occasions were reunited with them upon their release. 

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