Chickens, pigeons & sea lions go to war; Brooke Hospital hopes to help Iraq zoos
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2003:
BAGHDAD–Sentinel chickens deployed to detect poison gas
attacks were among the first casualties of the March 2003 U.S.
invasion of Iraq–but they were not gassed, and they never left the
Kuwait staging area, where they were distributed to the U.S. Marines
Exactly what killed 42 of the 43 chickens was unclear. Avian
influenza and heat stress were among the theorized possibilities.
Contrary to some reports, the birds were in the care of experienced
The dead chickens were replaced by pigeons before the fighting started.
“I have sensors that cost $12,000 and birds who cost $60 each, and I
place just as much trust in the birds as the sensors,” said Marine
Corps staff sergeant Dan Wallace.
The deployment was the first U.S. use of pigeons in combat in
50 years, but carrier pigeons were used by the U.S. Army Signal
Corps from the Civil War until after the Korean War.
Also on the front lines were as many as 20 California sea
lions, recently flown to Manama, Bahrain, to join the Harbor
Patrol Unit at the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet headquarters. Two of the sea
lions, trained at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in San
Diego, were exhibited to news media in mid-February. The sea lions
are supplanting the dolphin patrols used by the U.S. Navy for about
30 years because, said civilian head trainer Brenda Bryan,
“They are a lot more agile in tight places.”
U.S. deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz on March 7
ordered the Army, Navy, and Air Force joint chiefs of staff to
furnish President George W. Bush with specific examples of
impediments to military training resulting from animal and habitat
protection laws, for Bush to cite in attempting to persuade Congress
to exempt the military from obedience to the Endangered Species Act,
Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, Clean Air
Act, and Clean Water Act.
The proposed exemptions could jeopardize species including
the Sonora desert pronghorn, Mojave desert tortoise, California
gnatcatcher, all species of albatross, and the northern spotted owl.
But animals of all kinds could be among the big winners in
Iraq, should the U.S. invasion succeed in ending the Saddam Hussein
If, that is, the animals survive the fighting.
Never hospitable to animal advocacy, Iraq became overtly hostile
even to hunter/conservationists after the 1980-1988 Iran/Iraq border
war and the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War.
“One of the main battlegrounds were the Mesopotamian marshes,
one of the most important bird areas of the Middle East. Vast areas
of reedbeds were burned and wetlands were drained,” explained avian
demographer Les Underhill of University of Cape Town recently to
Helen Bamford of the Cape Town Argus.
Because the people of the marshes were culturally and ethnically
close to the Shi’ite majority of Iranians, Saddam Hussein destroyed
more than 90% of the habitat. Migratory waterfowl were
catastrophically affected throughout central Asia.
The harm to birds and other wildlife was increased when Iraqi
troops torched the oil wells of Kuwait during their Gulf War retreat
from the U.S.-led liberation force.
Environmentalists hope to try to restore the Mesopotamian
marshes, once peace is established and a friendlier Iraq government
is established. Currently, however, few experts have even seen the
damage except in satellite photographs.
The favorite sport of the Saddam Hussein regime was horse racing at
the Amiriya track near Baghdad, built on land donated by Uday Saddam
Hussein in 1995, after his father demolished the Mansour track built
by King Faisal II in 1948.
Saddam Hussein’s other son, Qusay, owned a conspicuously
successful racing stable during the late 1990s, but neither son had
been seen at the track in some time before the present war began,
reported John F. Burns of The New York Times.
There are two dilapidated zoos in Baghdad–or were.
The 11-acre government zoo, founded in 1973, closed in
2002, soon after director Adel Salman Mussa complained to Ezzedin
Said of Agence France Presse that he lacked the food, vaccines, and
medicines necessary to take proper care of the resident menagerie of
six lions, two tigers, six monkeys, and miscellaneous birds and
Adel Salman Mussa said the zoo had been forced to breed pigs
in order to keep the carnivores fed.
“The government zoo is under renovation and is scheduled to
reopen later this month. Until then, journalists are not allowed to
visit,” Associated Press writer Niko Price wrote a week before the
Price interviewed Saddam Jolan, 59, owner of the Rasafa amusement park zoo.
“The entrance gate is painted with cheery pictures of
elephants, lions, and tigers, but the schoolchildren rushing
inside see none. They gape at eight chickens, two cocker spaniels,
and a family of goats. They taunt a northern Iraqi bear and a
dirt-caked bone-thin camel with bald spots on legs and neck, and
laugh as two tired chimpanzees unwrap pieces of chewing gum passed
through a chain link fence,” Price related.
Lions, tigers, and ostriches formerly kept at the Rasafa
zoo have all died. A replacement tiger cub died after only two
weeks, Jolan said, blaming the plight of the animals–as Adel
Salman Mussa did at the government zoo–on the United Nations trade
embargo of Iraq imposed after the Gulf War.
“We are ready to help both zoos in Baghdad, and will offer
the same coordinating service that we have provided to the Kabul
Zoo,” North Carolina Zoo director and Brooke Hospital for Animals
board president David Jones told ANIMAL PEOPLE.
Jones has headed the Kabul Zoo relief effort since planning
and fundraising for it began in late September 2001. The Brooke
Hospital was then the only outside animal care agency with a
permanent presence in Pakistan, fielding six mobile teams and three
clinics in Peshwar to assist the pack animals of Afghan refugees.