Even animals with large teeth and claws do not fare well in the volatile Gaza Strip.
On Monday, Hamas militiamen raiding the hideout of a notorious drug ring stumbled upon a lion stolen at riflepoint two years ago from the Gaza Zoo, said a force commander, Abu Hamam al-Deeb. But she was malnourished, missing four teeth, claws and part of her tail, a veterinarian said.
Militiamen found the 2-year-old lion - as well as drugs and a weapons cache that were the target of the raid - after exchanging fire with the gunmen, al-Deeb said.
Sabrina was brought back to the Gaza Zoo and reunited with her brother, Sakher, who had avoided capture by resisting the gunmen. The two playfully swatted each other in the face and chased each other. When a zoo guard tried to pet Sabrina, Sakher crouched as if ready to pounce on him.
"We will start a long, arduous treatment to ensure she can survive," said the zoo veterinarian, Soud al-Shawaa. "She will only eat minced meat from now on so we feel sorry for her. ... They should punish the criminals who did this to her."
Sabrina had last been seen during a recent Muslim holiday at a Gaza photography studio where her captors charged about a dollar (EUR.74) for a picture with the lion.
Sabrina and Sakher were bought from Egypt soon after their birth in 2005. The zoo had been closed for years but reopened in October 2005 after Israel's withdrawal from the coastal strip.
The feline's fate was brighter than that of other game animals in Palestinian zoos. In 2004 several animals were killed when the strip's previous zoo in the border town of Rafah was destroyed in an Israeli army operation.
In the West Bank town of Qalqiliya, three zebras died of tear gas inhalation several years ago during a violent riot against Israeli security forces. A giraffe was also killed there during the fighting.
Later that year, the West Bank zoo received a gift of three lions, two zebras and three ibexes from Israel.