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Baghdad Zoo Reopens to Public
By Suzanne Freeman

Baghdad Zoo
A U.S. Army soldier stands with Iraqis as they view a camel at the newly reopened Baghdad Zoo in July. Only a few dozen people, most of them young men, wandered into the renovated zoo to see the lions, jaguars, and monkeys wilting in the 122ºF heat.
(Photo: Niko Price/AP Wide World)
July 2003—The Baghdad Zoo is back in business. What was once the largest zoo in the Middle East with more than 450 animals reopened on July 19. Only 80 representatives of 49 different species remain on exhibit. Most of the zoo's pre-war inhabitants had either been killed by bombs, stolen by looters, or eaten by hungry Iraqis or other zoo animals.

The animals in the zoo at one time had 5 vets and 32 keepers to look after them. During the war, they were left to starve to death. Looters stole nonaggressive animals they could either sell for pets or eat as food: birds, monkeys, dogs, horses, camels, and pigs.

When U.S. forces entered the zoo, which had been used as a staging ground for battle by Iraqi soldiers, they found lions and tigers and bears near death from hunger and dehydration. The once-ferocious beasts were also shook up by the gunfire and bombs.

"The lions, like all the animals, were half-starved when we found them and rattled by the bombs and bullets, but now they're starting to settle down," said Lawrence Anthony, the zoo's interim administrator.

While some of the animals have been shipped to sanctuaries in Australia and Africa to live out their days in peace, others have been nursed back to health for the reopening. Animals were added from the private zoos throughout Iraq that were once maintained by Saddam Hussein's sons.

"Let's make this a protected park and a learning park for all," said Ted Morse, the Coalition Provisional Authority coordinator for the Baghdad region, during opening ceremonies.

Only a handful of visitors came for the zoo's reopening day, mainly because the temperature in Baghdad was 112ºF. Those who came were happy to brave the heat to see Baghdad coming back to life.

"Ali wanted to see the animals," said Emad Abbas of his 2-year-old son. "We haven't been able to enter this part for many months, but now it looks good. Saddam deprived us of so much."