While some people have dogs and cats as friends, Rami Khashab has made unlikely friendships with local wild animals.
That includes snakes, spiders, lizards, jackals, foxes, and so much more. His passion is to spread awareness about local wildlife in an effort to preserve it.
Born to a Lebanese father and Ukrainian mother, Rami lived abroad during his childhood years, where he was exposed to wildlife at an early age. “My parents used to take me to circuses and zoos,” he told The961.
“Of course, I didn’t know back then that they weren’t good for animals. But it was my only access to wild animals back then,” he said.
His interest began around the age of 3, he recalled. While growing up, he used to read books about animals and watch documentaries and shows about them.
“My parents saw my obsession and they developed it,” he said.
At the age of 5, his family moved to Lebanon to a village in the south. This is where Rami found himself surrounded by plenty of wildlife.
“Unfortunately, people use to kill them and scare me from them, especially snakes and other reptiles,” he told us. Tons of snakes used to get killed yearly in the summer in the orchards nearby where farmers would tell him they are “evil”.
Over the years, Rami maintained his interest in Lebanon’s wildlife. He says he used to catch snakes and open their mouths to see if they were venomous in order to learn about them. At that time, he didn’t have access to the internet.
When the internet became available, he took the opportunity to learn more about local wildlife. He also learned a lot by taking his camera out into nature looking for the animals to collect photographs of them to keep a database.
He even has a YouTube channel through which he takes viewers on his herping (snake-finding) adventures.
Rami says that his interest leaned more to reptiles like snakes because they were abused the most in Lebanon. He knew that with more awareness, people would stop killing these harmless animals.
When he was around 15 years old, he met Lebanese ecologist Mona Khalil of Orange House Project, a turtle conservation and eco-tourism project. For around the next 8-10 years, he would be on a journey to help endangered sea turtles.
He later attended university in Beirut, where he met like-minded people who shared his unique passion and had journeys of their own with rescuing animals and exploring wildlife.
In 2018, under the support and leadership of veterinarian Gaby Hilan, the group of wildlife aficionados founded Lebanese Wildlife, an NGO that treats injured or orphaned local wildlife until returning them back to their natural habitat.
Today, there is a team of 7 people, including vets, volunteers, and people who have expertise in domains related to wildlife.
“Unfortunately, it’s not something you can study in Lebanon, so most of us gain experience with time, a lot of research, and passion,” explained Rami.
Lebanese Wildlife is now trying to spread awareness about local wildlife, specifically teaching young people about it, and also encourage eco-tourism.
“Our wildlife is very endangered at many levels, and we are trying to change that before it’s too late.”
“We try to show Lebanese what we see in our wildlife and how diverse Lebanon actually is despite how small it is on the map,” he added.
Of course, passion comes with its risks. Rami was bitten by nonvenomous snakes more than once while rescuing them.
He said the only time snakes will bite is to defend themselves if they feel threatened. “Usually, I let them bite me because I know they can’t actually harm me.”
As for saving other animals, such as jackals, foxes, or hyenas, Rami says the team is always prepared with rabies shots and first aid kits.
Asked what his most memorable rescue was, Rami couldn’t decide. “That’s a tough one,” he said, “every case is unique; every case is a new adventure.”
One rescue that is surely remembered is the time a crocodile fell from a balcony in Beirut recently.
The authorities were called and it was Rami’s team at Lebanese Wildlife that was able to care for it until it was ready to move on to a crocodile rescue center abroad.