The Baghdad Zoo used to be the largest zoo in the Middle East. Despite being in the middle of the desert, it spanned 300 acres of beautiful open lawn. It held 650 animals and received 1.5 million visitors between 2001 and 2002. However, once the war in Iraq began, this recreational area became a battlefield.
The zoo fell victim to gunfire and artillery, looters who took everything they could (including doorknobs), and starving thieves who looked to the animals for food. The zoo’s workers were not paid for weeks. Many had already left and the few remaining did not have enough supplies to keep the zoo clean. “The animal cages were foul beyond belief; they had not been cleaned for God knows how long…The stench was pungent enough to turn the strongest stomach,” writes Lawrence Anthony, internationally acclaimed conservationist, in his upcoming book Babylon’s Ark.
The book describes Anthony’s journey to refurbish the zoo and save the remaining animals. “The wall of the lions’ enclosure had a gaping hole from a direct hit from a mortar shell,” and “an Iraqi brown bear…[was] dementedly moving backward and forward within his four-walled confines as he went stir-crazy.”
Currently, the zoo holds 60 animals, including the Iraqi brown bear, Bengal tiger, African lion, Iraqi boar, cheetah, ostrich, camel, badger, desert fox, jungle cat, wolf, hyena, monkey, black buck, and a small assortment of birds including the pelican, vulture, and owl. Mandor, a 20-year-old Siberian tiger owned by Saddam Hussein’s eldest son Uday Hussein, and Sudqa, a nine-year-old lioness, were found starving in their cages. Anthony also came across a blind Iraqi brown bear named Saida as well as a Bengal tiger named Malooh, who was later shot and killed by a soldier defending his drunken friend. The Bengal tiger is an endangered species.
Due to Anthony’s efforts, the Baghdad Zoo is being rebuilt to restore the zoo to its former glory. “Farah Murrani, a very brave young female Iraqi vet working with us, actually got over a hundred dogs out of Baghdad to homes in England and the U.S,” says Anthony. “The zoo is now on the radar of the American Zoo Association and the zoo was donated modern animal husbandry and veterinarian books.” Other organizations have also made contributions. Even with this assistance, however, the animals need any and all the help they can get. Donations can be sent via: www.earthorganization.com.
For the full story of the refurbishing of the Baghdad Zoo, check out Babylon’s Ark, set for release on March 12, 2007.