- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 27, 2003

BAGHDAD There aren't many animals left in the Baghdad Zoo, and the ones that survived aren't very appealing.
The brown bear is a scrofulous giant with rheumy eyes and a crusty nose. He was gnawing on dirty pita bread.
The three surviving lions have retreated into a small cage at the back of their enclosure, far from the rest of the shattered zoo.
The baboon escaped.
It wasn't the war that destroyed the Baghdad Zoo as much as the looting that swept the country immediately afterward. Hundreds of animals were stolen, possibly by zoo administrators, and few are likely to be returned.
"Look at what has happened here," veterinarian Hussham Mohammed Hussan wailed on a tour of the zoo yesterday. "This used to be so nice."
He said he does not have electricity, running water or a dependable source of food for the zoo's remaining animals, which include a tortoise, a lynx and two tired tigers.
Looters also made off with all the zoo's equipment and damaged many of the cages. Without generators or batteries, the pens are cleaned with the same stagnant canal water that the animals have been drinking.
As dismal as the attraction is, Dr. Hussan and U.S. military liaisons say few of the remaining animals are in immediate danger.
Early intelligence led officials to fear that these animals, as well as a half-dozen big cats in Uday Hussein's recently discovered private menagerie, were so sick or neglected that euthanasia might be necessary.
"It's much better than we thought," said Capt. William Sumner, the U.S. Army's expert on arts, monuments and museums. "But we've got a veterinary team arriving in the next few days, and they will be able to transfer these animals and treat the ones that are injured."
He was particularly relieved to see that two cheetahs and seven lions living on Uday Hussein's palace grounds were not, as feared, low on food, sick or hurt.
The animals at Uday's palace are living in dusty squalor in a caged area under the enthusiastic care of a tank mechanic, Sgt. Christopher Fisher from Asheville, N.C..
Sgt. Fisher isn't sure how he became the lion tamer at the former home of Saddam Hussein's elder son, but he enjoys watching the cheetahs race, the lions nap and the two cubs play. He worries that one of the cheetahs is lame, and a lion cub appears to be injured.
Twice a day he feeds the cats thawed slabs of raw meat, probably camel or buffalo, donated by the Kuwait Zoo. There is enough to last at least two weeks, he said.
"When we first got here, soldiers were driving up with sheep and we'd just toss them in the pen," Sgt. Fisher, 24, said yesterday. "Honestly, I think they preferred ripping up live animals to me tossing the meat in."
The enclosure is not strong enough to keep the animals in, and soldiers had to shoot at least three lions and one bear after they escaped.
Incidents like that make everyone eager to get the animals under proper care and transferred to the slightly more secure Baghdad Zoo.
There was no fighting inside the zoo, according to U.S. military officers, who say they have found several weapons caches and uniforms that indicate Iraqi soldiers were living inside. But the surrounding area, the site of several ministry offices, saw fierce fighting, and damage is extensive.
Immediately after the battles, soldiers reported seeing animals in their cages, particularly birds and some exotic game. As many as 300 animals are missing, said Dr. Hussan, who blames looters for the loss.
But U.S. officials are convinced that zoo administrators Ba'ath Party loyalists who have not been seen since the looting began sold the animals on the black market to collectors of exotic birds and other highly prized species.
"It seems odd that when the zoo people drifted back after the war, the animals disappeared," said Maj. Rick Nussio of Detroit, an officer in the 3rd Infantry Division.
"How could cages with locks not have animals in them anymore?"

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