- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

At a private zoo within the walls of a Baghdad palace owned by one of Saddam Hussein's sons, U.S. troops are feeding hungry lions and bears.
Elsewhere in the city, a zoo was bombed during the war when the Iraqi military used it as an artillery emplacement. Since the toppling of Saddam's regime, looters have made off with some zoo animals.
The scenes reflect critical conditions at Baghdad's zoos, and American animal-welfare groups are moving to help animals in the abandoned facilities, which house everything from cheetahs to camels.
The American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) yesterday announced a plan to collaborate with the North Carolina Zoo and the North Carolina Zoological Society to deploy funds and trained teams to counter critical conditions in public and private zoos in Baghdad.
"Through our network of people in the region, we can assist in getting funds, food and veterinary items into Baghdad," David Jones, director of the North Carolina Zoo, said in a statement.
The North Carolina Zoo agreed to act as a "conduit for funds" as it did in 2001 when it raised $500,000 through public donations for the Kabul Zoo while military forces scoured Afghanistan for the Taliban.
"We've found that a lot of people, whether right or wrong, are more concerned about animals than humans," said Rod Hackney, a North Carolina Zoo spokesman. "There will no doubt be tremendous amounts of humanitarian aid into Baghdad, but we have this special niche to be able to collect funds from those that want to give to animals."
Steps toward an exact plan have been hampered by limited knowledge of the conditions.
"One of the biggest problems we're facing is that, right now, we really don't have a complete assessment of what is left, either in terms of animals and facilities and what is needed," said Jane Ballentine, AZA spokeswoman.
In the absence of veterinary specialists to assess the situation, reports are sketchy at best, said John Walsh, international project advisory director at the World Society for the Protection of Animals. Mr. Walsh has worked for 42 years with animals during times of crisis from Panama to Bosnia-Herzegovina and supervised the animal-welfare project funded by AZA in Kabul.
Mr. Walsh said the information he has received indicates that there are two public zoos in Baghdad, in addition to numerous private collections of exotic animals. The main zoo, El Zawra, had not yet reopened to the public after recent renovations. This facility was "used by the Iraqis as an artillery base" and many of the animals there may have died when the site was bombed.
At a second zoo, Rasafa, many of the animals have died from starvation or disease. Some Iraqis, not limiting their looting to stores and government buildings, took all the "manageable animals" including birds, goats and sheep, Mr. Walsh said.
Once donations are collected and more information is obtained, AZA, in association with zoos across the United States and international animal-welfare organizations, will decide a course of action.
Mr. Walsh suggested moving all the animals from the private collection into the El Zawra facility, sending trained veterinary workers into Baghdad and shipping 50-pound bags of specially designed food for the animals.

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