LAZIZ is about the physical and political barriers humans have created. In May 2016, Ai Weiwei and his team traveled to Gaza during the filming of “Human Flow” and visited the Khan Younis zoo, rated “the world’s worst zoo” by animal welfare groups. At the time, only 15 starved and neglected animals remained. Laziz, a ten-year-old male Bengal tiger, was the last tiger in the Gaza strip. Laziz was eventually relocated to an animal sanctuary in South Africa, due to the efforts of Four Paws International. In LAZIZ, we see the tiger frantically circle his cage alongside scenes of Palestinian men and women waiting between the steel bars of the checkpoints separating Israel and Palestine.
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I am a cage in search of a bird.
- Franz Kafka, Austrian novelist (1883 - 1924)
My eyes want to stream to each other
like two neighbor lakes.
To tell each other
all they have seen.
My blood has many relatives–
they never visit.
But when they die
my blood inherits.
“Six Songs for Tamar”
Laziz is the name of a ten-year- old male Bengal tiger. He was smuggled through a tunnel that connects Egypt with Gaza as one of the first animals obtained by the Khan Younis Zoo in Gaza in 2007. The zoo was situated next to an amusement park and over time accumulated hundreds of animals including primates, lions, emus, pelicans and many more.
During military conflicts between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas government in 2009 and again in 2014 several animals were reported to have died, mostly of starvation. In 2015 more than 50 of the deceased animals were taxidermied by the zoo staff and were put on display in the enclosures to attract more visitors to the otherwise deserted zoo. Images of these mummified animals earned the park the reputation of “the world’s worst zoo” by animal welfare groups and international media.
In May 2016 Ai Weiwei and his team came to Gaza for a documentary film project about refugees and during their stay they also visited the Khan Younis Zoo. By then only 15 of the previous hundreds of animals were still alive, most cages appeared deserted and the animals starving. All other cats, including Laziz’ mate, had died and felines from other Gaza zoos had already been rescued – Laziz remained the last tiger in the Gaza strip.
In August 2016 the animal welfare organization Four Paws International started a long prepared rescue mission for the remaining animals of Khan Younis. The zoo was closed and all animals were taken out of Gaza and brought to animal sanctuaries in neighboring Jordan and Israel. Only Laziz was transferred by plane to the Lion’s Rock Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa on August 25 th , where he is now living on a large grassy enclosure that supports his natural behavior.
The video shows Laziz in a temporary enclosure at the Khan Younis Zoo in June 2016, two months before his rescue.
We would like to thank the following: Wang Fen, Chin Chin Yap, Abubakr Bashir, Khaled Alashqar, Nadine Stenke and the team of Four Paws International.