BOOKS: Babylon’s Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2007:
Babylon’s Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo
by Lawrence Anthony, with Graham Spence
Thomas Dunne Books (c/o St. Martin’s Press, 175 5th Ave., New York,
NY 10010), 2007. 240 pages, paperback. $23.95.
At the same time that ANIMAL PEOPLE received a web link to a
video clip of U.S. troops stoning an injured dog in early 2007, we
received a link to another video clip showing lions being released
from cages to kill and eat several donkeys, as soldiers cheered.
“Three times per week the zoo keeper buys donkeys to feed the
starving lions,” the caption said.
This is not how Earth Organization founder Lawrence Anthony
taught the Baghdad Zoo staff to operate, after making his way there
from South Africa because he thought the zoo animals might need help
after the U.S. military invaded Baghdad in May 2003.
Anthony did give staff members money to buy donkeys as lion
food, he admits in Babylon’s Ark, because no other meat was
available. But he also brought the zoo’s slaughterman back to work
by paying him–and all the staff–long owed back wages.
With frequent help from sympathetic soldiers, Anthony
improvised a watering system for the animals, to replace a system
damaged by fighting and dismantled by looters. He drove looters out
of the zoo, expanded the depleted men-agerie by taking in the
remnants of the private animal collection of Saddam Hussein’s even
more murderous son Udai, and added more animals by closing a
notoriously substandard private zoo on the far side of Baghdad.
Anthony also encouraged and assisted volunteer zoo
veterinarian Farah Murrani in founding the Iraq Animal Welfare
Society, which for nearly two years operated from the zoo
premises–although Murrani herself was forced to flee death threats
in late 2004.
In addition, Anthony led efforts to recover whatever
remained of Saddam Hussein’s renowned private horse collection. In
mid-2005 the horses were returned to the government of Iraq as a
national treasure. The last public act of the Iraq Animal Welfare
Society appears to have been relaying to the horses’ government
caretakers funding and equipment for the horses collected by U.S.
horse trainer Ed Littlefox, who called his project Tack for Iraq.
Anthony intended for Babylon’s Ark to end happily, with the
Baghdad Zoo again accommodating the millions of visitors who walked
the grounds in better times. He did not expect the conditions to
regress to what they were at Udai’s facility, where political
opponents and rivals for the interest of young women were apparently
thrown to the lions–and where U.S. interrogators threatened to feed
entrepreneurs Thahe Mohammed Sabbar, 37, and Sherzad Kamal Khalid,
35, to the lions, Sabbar and Khalid alleged in a June 2006 press
Backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights
First, Sabbar and Khalid in March 2006 sued the U.S. government for
other purported interrogation abuses, but did not mention the lion
incident in their court case, which would have occurred before
Anthony anticipated Baghdad returning to civilization. As
with other declarations of “Mission accomplished,” his hopes were