Samer al-Homsi, a 43-year-old animal collector, kisses a lioness at his private zoo in Jaramana, suburb of Damascus, capital of Syria, on Nov. 11, 2019. During the Syrian war and the calamities that have come along, people's dreams seem to have been put on hold. But for Samer al-Homsi, the war was no reason to quit on his dream of developing the best zoo in Syria. (Photo by Ammar Safarjalani/Xinhua)
by Hummam Sheikh Ali
DAMASCUS, Nov. 16 (Xinhua) -- During the Syrian war and the calamities that have come along, people's dreams seem to have been put on hold. But for Samer al-Homsi, a 43-year-old animal collector, the war was no reason to quit on his dream of developing the best zoo in Syria.
Al-Homsi started developing the hobby of collecting wild animals when he was younger. His love for animals began to grow when he raised a cat in his house.
Watching it grow and give birth to small kittens, al-Homsi started to discover the animal world and became fascinated by the way his cat treated her babies.
Then he wanted to dig deeper as his father was a merchant who used to travel a lot and take al-Homsi with him.
So he bought his first cub and raised it as a pet, starting the first step to become a famous wild animal collector and trainer in Syria.
"I started thinking of having a wild animal in my house and I brought more animals and took part in many festivals," he told Xinhua.
After obtaining legal permission to run a zoo in the area of the capital Damascus, al-Homsi put a diverse collection of animals in a piece of land near the airport road. However, the Syrian war broke out, during which many of his animals were killed by the rebels when they stormed areas near the airport.
"Before the war, I had a piece of land near the airport road where I trained several animals, including wild ones as well as giraffes and a black cheetah. But during the war, the rebels took my animals and killed them," he lamented.
Seeing his animals slaughtered broke his heart as they were so dear to him, but this didn't dissuade him from pursuing his dream.
Al-Homsi managed to salvage some of the animals by bringing them to a small piece of territory his family owns in the Jaramana suburb east of Damascus before introducing more wildlife into the place.
In his new venue, al-Homsi has 35 kinds of animals, including tiger, lion, bear, gazel, dog, sheep and rare bird of prey.
He buys animal feed at his own expense, which costs him about 150 U.S. dollars on a daily basis in addition to their medical checkups.
The Syrian man treats his wild animals as pets, giving a name to each one of them and even playing with them inside their cages.
Al-Homsi told Xinhua that his favorite one is a nine-year-old lioness called Shaima, who jumps on and hugs him when he enters her cage and plays with her.
There is another lion called Ashhab who is the son of Shaima. Al-Homsi said Ashab can sense the odor of his mother.
"Animals may not know their parents but they feel love for them if they are around and this fascinates me," he said.
So far, these animals have been living on al-Homsi's private premises which are not opened to the public. He is now applying to invest in Damascus' Adawi Zoo which has very few animals under the circumstances of the war.
"I aspire to have the best zoo in Syria where I bring all kinds of animals to show them to the people," al-Homsi told Xinhua.