The Qalqilya Zoo is almost an impossibility. The only municipal zoo in the Palestinian territories, it’s situated a short distance from the Israeli-occupied West Bank. In a location rife with conflict, it seems impossible that a zoo should be established there - and yet, it acts as something of a beacon of hope to the Palestinian people who visit it.
'Waiting For Giraffes' follows Dr Sami Khader, the life force behind the Qalqilya Zoo. He’s raised many of the animals by hand, and has worked hard at bringing the zoo up to international standards. His dream is to become a member of international zoo association EAZA, allowing him to bring a new giraffe to Qalqilya.
Dr Sami is an inspiration. He’s quite a character - he might officially be the zoo’s vet, but he’s so much more: mentor to fellow workers, persistent innovator, passionate animal carer, and Palestinian refugee. He is inarguably the protagonist for this film, and his hard work and dedication well outside his line of duty has done so much to change his workplace.
Like Dr Sami himself, the film aims to avoid politics - but as is referenced in the film, it’s impossible to do anything in Palestine without getting political. Even purchasing more Palestinian-owned land to expand the zoo requires the approval of the Israeli authorities, and travelling to the closest zoo in Israel requires extensive paperwork for visas. Everything is a complicated challenge in a situation that seems like it would fall apart were it not for Dr Sami holding it together.
Dr Sami is an inspiration. He’s quite a character - he might officially be the zoo’s vet, but he’s so much more.
We witness the evolution of the zoo as it undergoes the process of applying for EAZA - a challenging task, but one that Dr Sami is determined to conquer. It’s made all the more difficult by those around him - in one scene, Dr Sami has to tell one of his co-workers he’s putting all of the plastic rubbish in the wrong bin, clearly marked “metal waste”. The problems appear endless.
Yet Dr Sami brings a touch of humour to any situation, and the ability to adapt creatively becomes a vital tool. He shows a lot of heart, though without being overtly sentimental. This is reflected in snippets of interviews with local Palestinians, who may not be familiar with him directly, but are most certainly positive about the zoo.
At times, the challenges of Qalqilya Zoo seem like a metaphor for the Israeli-Palestinian situation. Despite the hardship, Dr Sami and his team persevere with their goals, and it’s hard not to want them to succeed. By the end of ‘Waiting For Giraffes’, you’ll be rooting for them too - and amazed at the impossible zoo they have forged.