Sudanese man braves Khartoum clashes to tend to wild animals at his sanctuary

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Osman Salih in Khartoum has found it hard enough to protect his own family through days of heavy fighting that have hammered Sudan’s capital, yet he still battles on to prevent lions and other wild animals starving at a sanctuary he runs.

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“We’re struggling on one side to feed our family and children and close ones,” he said.

“And at the same time, we can’t give up on the responsibility towards the animals that we’ve worked so hard to rescue and take care of,” Salih said in a video interview from the sanctuary at al-Bageir, southeast from the capital.

Gunfire, shelling and air strikes between the army and rival paramilitary groups have forced residents to cower at home or flee a city where basic services have collapsed, and food is in alarmingly short supply.

Since the warfare erupted on April 15, tens of thousands have already left for neighboring countries, despite the uncertainty of conditions there.

“We have no supplies, no fuel, no electricity, no water,” said Salih, who travels 15 km (9 miles) to the outskirts of Khartoum to look after and feed more than 200 animals, including 25 lions and six hyenas.

“We’re really risking our lives every day to try to reach [the sanctuary], if not every day, every other day,” he said.

“The biggest risk right now is that if these animals continue to feel agitated and uncomfortable, they might try to break loose,” he said, adding that the electric system that secures the enclosures is not working without power.

Salih said his team came under live fire in the first few days of fighting, and bombshells hit the sanctuary, including the lion enclosure.

Widespread looting adds to his concerns.

“We’re very worried. We’re very scared ... everybody is on their own right now fighting for their own survival.”

So far, Salih said, he has been able to balance keeping his family and the animals safe but he does not know how long he can keep it up.

“It’s a very hard choice. Every day we have to step out of the door and go and take care of the animals without knowing if we’ll be able to come back or not.”

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