Big cats caught in a war zone
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2003:
BAGHDAD, SAN ANTONIO, ASHEBORO, N.C.–Anxious U.S. Marines
under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Eric Schwartz during the
nights of April 15 and April 17 unhappily shot three of seven
starving African lions found at the Baghdad Zoo after first one and
then two more broke out of their bomb-damaged enclosures.
On the loose, they could easily have found their way into
densely populated parts of the city.
“We fought our way from Kuwait to Najaf to Kerbala to
Baghdad, but the hardest thing I’ve had to do in Iraq was kill those
lions,” Schwartz told London Sunday Telegraph correspondent Philip
Wrote Sherwell, “Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade, 3rd
Infantry Division–the troops who first fought their way into
Baghdad–have been feeding the caged animals with slaughtered donkeys
and bringing them water from an artificial lake,” with the help of
zoo veterinarian Hashim Mohamed Hussein, who was among the few staff
who remained on duty after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Added Sherwell, “The zoo’s birds, fish, and reptiles were
stolen by looters, but they thought better of tackling the lions,
who were donated by Saddam’s son Uday.”
Rosalind Russell of Reuters reported that Uday’s 20-year-old
tiger Mandor also remained at the 11-acre zoo, but that the looters
had taken “chimpanzees, vervet monkeys, Pekinese dogs, love birds,
and cockatoos. More than 300 animals are missing,” Russell said,
but it was not clear that all of them disappeared with the looters,
who were still trying to steal zoo equipment as of April 17.
The Baghdad Zoo, actually one of three zoos in the city,
had been closed for many months, ostensibly for “renovation.” The
public and news media were barred, and as at other public facilities
throughout Iraq, weapons and munitions were stored on the grounds.
“Even before the conflict the zoo was a sorry place,”
recalled Sherwell. “Many animals, including ponies and camels,
have died or have been killed for food.
The remaining animals had not been fed in about 10 days when
the Marines arrived and began giving them their own rations.
“The troops slaughtered pigs penned at the zoo site, and
butchered a dead wolf to feed the lions and tigers. But it couldn’t
go far -a lion consumes 18 pounds a day,” wrote Patrick McDowell of
“My men really care about these animals,” Schwartz said.
Non-essential travel through Iraq was still restricted during
the first days after the Marines entered Baghdad, but a truck from
Kuwait hauling seven tons of frozen meat, fruit, vegetables and
grain for the animals arrived on April 19, escorted throughout the
24-hour drive from the border by a military convoy.
“This represents two to four weeks of food for the Baghdad
Zoo,” Army reservist Jim Fikes told McDowell.
Fikes “put together the shipment with the Humanitarian
Organizing Committee in Kuwait City, which handles connections
between charities and the U.S. military,” McDowell wrote.
“It comes from a request that I got through the military
chain,” Fikes explained. “It was considered urgent.”
“We see this as being for Iraqi kids. Zoos are mainly for kids. In
a way, we’re helping them as much as the animals,” Kuwaiti
coordinator of Baghdad Zoo relief Abdullah Onlanzi told McDowell.
The other zoos in Baghdad are the comparatively tiny Rasafa
amusement park menagerie, owned by Saddam Jolan, 59, including two
chimpanzees, a bear, and a camel, and the private carnivore
collection of Uday Hussein.
The existence of the latter was unknown, Chicago Tribune
staff reporter Bill Glauber wrote, until Staff Sergeant Darren
Swain, 37, of Talladega, Alabama, opened the door to a
“suspicious” concrete compound on the grounds of Saddam Hussein’s
Republican Palace and “saw a big old tail go past. I said to myself,
that looks like a lion’s tail,” Swain told Glauber.
The compound held three adult lions, four cubs, several
cheetahs, a bear, and three German shepherds.
David Zucchino of the Los Angeles Times wrote of the
discovery that, “Scouts from the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division
found a live sheep and fed it to a cheetah, which was joined in the
feast by three lions. Across the pen, a thin brown bear cub bounded
through the grass, draggng the entrails of a sheep provided earlier
by the same scouts.”
An Associated Press report said, “Soldiers have been
throwing in sheep from a nearby pen. A feeding on April 13 ‘looked
like something from the National Geographic Channel,’ said one
ANIMAL PEOPLE e-mailed to Zucchino to find out whether the
sheep were in fact being fed alive to the big cats, but at deadline
had received no response.
A comparably appalling story came meanwhile from Alexandra
Zavis of Associated Press, who wrote that Marine Wing Squadron 271
was killing and eating the gazelles formerly kept by Saddam Hussein
at a hunting ranch near the Tikrit south airfield.
“Each of the squadron’s platoons has been limited to killing
one gazelle a day to make sure the herd isn’t depleted,” Zavis said.
“The Marines are using 9mm pistols to hunt after initially being
forbidden to use firearms for fear that gunshots in the woods might
be mistaken for enemy fire.”
“We hunted them with rocks, as Stone Age as that sounds,”
said Corporal Joshua Wicksell, 26, of Corpus Christi.
How to help
North Carolina Zoological Society director Davy Jones is
heading the official international relief effort for the Baghdad
zoos, modeled after the relief program he arranged for the Kabul Zoo
in Afghanistan during October 2001.
The official donation address is: Aid to Baghdad Zoo, c/o
North Carolina Zoological Society, 4403 Zoo Parkway, Asheboro, NC
As in Kabul, a team from the World Society for the
Protection of Animals is to do the initial assessment and provide
emergency aid. The American Zoo Association and the European
Association of Zoos and Aquaria are again doing the major
fundraising, having helped Jones to raise $350,000 for the Kabul Zoo
plus $150,000 to help other animals in Afghanistan.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare donated $25,000 to
help get the Baghdad relief work started.
In addition to helping the Baghdad zoo animals, Jones as
board president of the London-based Brooke Hospital for Animals is
arranging aid for the equines and other hooved beasts of Iraq.
Partner organizations will help dogs and cats, in a nation which has
apparently never before had a humane society.
Another London charity, the Society for the Protection of
Animals Abroad pledged to “supply veterinarians, supplies, and
assistance to local agencies in and around Iraq under the guidance of
the (British) Foreign Office” as soon as possible, but it was not
clear what “local agencies” SPANA expected to find to work with.
The Mayhew Animal Home, also of London, has had fulltime
animal welfare staff working at the Kabul Zoo for more than a year,
and is expected to assist in Iraq as well.
John Van Zante of the Helen V. Woodward Center in Chula
Vista, California, indicated to ANIMAL PEOPLE that the Woodward
Center also hopes to take an active role in the relief effort.
A separate relief team headed by conservationist Lawrence
Anthony was reportedly dispatched from the Royal Natal National Park
in South Africa. His expedition was sponsored, Agence France-Press
said, “by a local corporate finance house.”
The U.S. front
Sumner D. Matthes, wildlife rescue coordinator for the
Florida organization Sarasota In Defense of Animals, meanwhile
reminded donors rushing to help the hungry big cats in Iraq that
there are lions and tigers in distress on the home front, too, many
of them in trouble partly because of the fundraising slump afflicting
animal charities since the high-tech stock crash of 2000-2001,
intensifying after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and
again during the economic uncertainty associated with the start of
the Iraq war.
“Of course we have great concern for the animals at the
Baghdad Zoo,” Matthes said. “However, it is ironic to me that we
in the U.S. have animals in the same horrible conditions and nobody
will help. Right now I have lions in Mexico who need to be brought
to the United States for care but nobody can provide the
transportation or lifetime sanctuary costs. I have two tigers in
Alabama who need to be moved to a sanctuary in Indiana, but money
for their transportation and lifetime care has not been forthcoming.
I have two bears in Washington who need to be taken to California or
Texas for proper sanctuary and lifetime care. We had a verbal
commitment from WSPA to assist but they backed off because of the
Added Wild Animal Orphanage a.k.a. Animal Sanctuary of the
U.S. founder Carol Asvestas, “I fully understand that Baghdad offers
an opportunity to raise funds, and yes, I understand that the
animals there need help. I commend WSPA and IFAW for the help they
have given in the past to some of the animals here, but I share
Sumner’s frustration. I cannot begin to list the many animals who
have been displaced recently,” Asvestas wrote–from a wheelchair,
temporarily, as a casualty herself of the big cat wars.
Asvestas is also a cofounder, with Austin Zoo director Cindy
Carroccio, of Animal Centers for Excellence, the newest of many
efforts to produce effective standards for sanctuary operation. On
April 6, someone who left behind tracks and a pipe used as pry-bar
tried hard to damage Asvestas’ reputation for excellence. The
intruder entered the newer of the two ASUS big cat facilities near
San Antonio, Texas, and lifted a corner of the cage occupied by a
lioness named Hanna just enough to enable her to squeeze out.
Asvestas and five of her staff rushed to the scene, along
with 10 sheriff’s deputies. After a police helicopter located Hanna
in heavy brush, Asvestas told ANIMAL PEOPLE, Asvestas shot Hanna
with a tranquilizer dart. Asvestas was preparing to give Hanna a
second dose when Hanna charged her, knocking her into a mesquite
branch that punctured her back, fractured her pelvis, and broke a
rib. Another ASUS caregiver darted Hanna a second time, about 90
minutes later, but when Hanna charged again, four deputies shot her.
“They did the right thing,” Asvestas said sadly. A CrimeStoppers
reward was offered for whoever lifted the fence. Investigators are
interested in the coincidence, Asvestas indicated, that the escape
loosely paralleled the January 1999 alleged escape of a tiger from
the Tigers Only Preservation Society compound in Jackson Township,
New Jersey. That tiger was also killed by police. State officials
moved to close Tigers Only and relocate the 24 surviving tigers to
ASUS, but Tigers Only founder Joan Byron-Marasek has resisted
closure in court ever since. Her supporters include at least one
angry former ASUS employee.
Tigers Only meanwhile had a second serious incident when
Byron-Marasek’s husband Jan Marasek, 70, was mauled while feeding a
tiger in October 2002. He was hospitalized for 10 days.
Byron-Marasek in March 2003 was refused permission to move to
Maine, after a plan to move to upstate New York fell though.
Other recent human casualties of the U.S. big cat wars include
William Olsen, 32, fatally mauled by a tiger on March 31 at his
Second Nature Exotic Cats Sanctuary in Hennepin, Illinois, and
Linda Bracket, 35, a volunteer who was fatally mauled on April 2 at
Safari Joe’s Rock Creek Exotic Animal Park near Adair, Oklahoma.
Olsen was fined $2,000 for Animal Welfare Act violations last
year after another tiger in his care bit a 7-year-old girl in May
2002. That tiger was owned by Mary Jean Williams of Ivanhoe, Texas,
who was convicted of endangering the health of a child. The tiger
escaped from her vehicle en route back to Texas in September 2002 and
was shot by police. Olsen’s Second Nature sanctuary was closed and
all the remaining animals were relocated after his death.
Bracket was killed and helper Amanda Sternke, 20, was
injured, by a tiger belonging to the International Wildlife Center
of Texas, formerly of Corsicana, now leasing space from Safari Joe
Estes. The International Wildlife Center was closed in early 2002
due to repeated violations of animal welfare and zoning standards.
Other recent animal casualties of the proliferation of exotic
cats in private hands apparently include up to 30 dead tigers and 58
dead cubs discovered on April 22 at the original Tiger Rescue site in
Glen Avon, California. Founded in 1972 by former breeder and
performer John Hans Weinhart, 60, Tiger Rescue relocated to Colton,
California, in 1998, after a prolonged zoning dispute, and was no
longer supposed to have animals in Glen Avon.
Thirteen live tiger and leopard cubs and two alligators were
seized by the California State Department of Fish & Game. Weinhart
and his wife Marla Smith were arrested on suspicion of endangering
their young son and cruelty to animals, and Tiger Rescue
veterinarian Wendelin Ringel was also arrested, according to
Sergeant Chad Bianco of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
Weinhart and Smith were already facing 14 counts of alleged
neglect of more than 40 tigers kept at the Colton site, where state
officials seized 10 tiger cubs in November 2002.
In Chicago, meanwhile, taxidermist William Kapp, 37, was
convicted on April 3 on 17 counts of violating federal wildlife laws
by participating in a ring that allegedly killed and/or illegally
sold the parts of 19 tigers, seven leopards, a snow leopard, and
an Asian swamp deer in 1997-1999. All 15 other people charged in
connection with the case accepted plea bargains earlier, including
exotic meat market owner Richard Czimer Jr.
Less than 24 hours after Kapp was convicted, an arson
claimed in the name of the Animal Liberation Front damaged Czimer’s
store in Lockport, Illinois.