The Baghdad Zoo – 2003
During this time at Thula Thula, the Iraqi war was ongoing. Lawrence Anthony had been watching the nonstop TV coverage on the war on CNN, and was highly disturbed by the sufferings of the animals and people in Iraq.
As quoted from him, “But what I did know was that in all human hostilities animals have suffered horrifically and often anonymously.”
Lawrence Anthony was still haunted by the images of the crippled Kabul Zoo in the aftermath of the previous Afghan Taliban war where only 1 remaining lion had been found. It was found starving and gravely injured, and which died shortly after.
“The same fate awaited the wild creatures of Baghdad. of that I had no doubt. I knew I had to do something. Anything. I could not let the same dreadful fate happen to the animals of Baghdad. Somehow I had to get there just to see if I could help.”
Lawrence Anthony managed to do the impossible: attain clearance to enter Iraq. This was after many tries approaching various people and organisations, and his luck led him to meet the right person in Kuwait who was also as concerned about the plight of the animals as he was. And so began Lawrence Anthony’s journey to Iraq, alone, with no knowledge of the local language.
Hiring a car from Kuwait, Lawrence Anthony drove into Iraq together with 2 Kuwaitis who were to help him in his quest to rescue the animals of Baghdad Zoo, the largest zoo in the middle east at that time. Braving through many hair-raising obstacles where he was surrounded by soldiers, gunshots and looters, he admitted that his naivete, rather than bravery, got him through that ordeal.
When he finally managed to reach the Baghdad Zoo, there were only around 30 animals left, from the original number of over 600 animals. All the remaining animals were badly dehydrated, starving, and living in filthy cages. The zoo’s infrastructure was partially destroyed, and animals had been stolen by looters. The zoo was victim to gunfire and artillery, looters taking everything they could possibly carry (even scrap bits of metal from cages), and starving locals who took the animals from the zoo to feed their families.
Lawrence Anthony, together with a few loyal workers, did their best to bring the zoo under some sort of control. They scoured the whole place for donkeys to feed the carnivores, scrubbed the filthy cages down, manually carried buckets of water to feed the animals for the entire day, searched for parts to fix their water supply and when parts were miraculously found, one of the key people involved helped solve some of the zoo’s worst problems, restoring water supply to the animals’ cages. What was amazing was that the locals and even the soldiers were braving the war to come together to help save the zoo, when just weeks back, they were killing each other. Every single morning, every one of them had to brave the dangerous streets where shooting was rife, to walk to the zoo and start their work for the day.
Through their hard work, perseverance, and the sacrifices made by many people, they managed to restore some semblance of stability to Baghdad Zoo and rehabilitated it. Once that was done, he ventured out to save other animals, including Uday Hussein’s lions, which were rumoured to be man-eaters, and Saddam Hussein’s prized horses.
Returning to Zululand, South Africa in 2004, he then set up The Earth Organization as a means of expanding his international conservation efforts, reaching out to more people about the importance of conservation of wildlife. He also came up with a draft of a resolution named Wildlife in War Zones, presented to the United Nations, to make all wildlife parks and conservation areas protected in times of war. Also, their abuse is to be classified as a war crime.
Today, Baghdad Zoo is still under rehabilitation, but thanks to Lawrence Anthony’s brave efforts, is well on its way to being restored to its former glory.
Lawrence Anthony’s courage, dedicated efforts to save the abandoned animals of Baghdad Zoo while braving the danger of the war and the uncertainty of that period of time in a city under siege, and devotion to animals and his cause, has inspired many people all around the world. He has taught the world about the meaning of true courage and dedication through his actions throughout his life.