For man and beast, the Middle East is a dangerous place to call home. It’s been fraught with unrest for millennia. Constant upheaval and war emerges from ethnic & religious clashes culminating from ongoing boundary disputes. Today it’s the Shia, the Sunni, Kurd Muslims and other factions that not only fight among themselves, but now also have the additional threat of ISIS, the terrorist militia that's has grown exponentially in the last decade. Unfortunately, our zoo animals get caught in the cross-hairs as witnessed in Syria and Iraq.
In Syria & the Aleppo Zoo . . .
Some brave Syrian nationals have remained in their country to tend to the animals. Over the last two months, an ambulance driver known as Alaa has spent about $4 (£2.50) each day on meat for 150 stray cats. In the largely deserted district of Masaken Hanano in Aleppo, these feline refugees would most likely have starved to death without Alaa's compassionate heart.
Alaa is also concerned about the animals who have been left behind in the town’s old zoo. According to The Dodo,“when he approached their cages, the animals just came to him, as if they knew he was there to help them.”
With this initiative, Alaa brings fresh meat he was able to secure through donations. Sent to him from his online fans, who have learned of his advocacy efforts, this campaign is helping. However, finding long-range solutions seems much more of an uphill battle. Malnourished, the tigers, bears and monkeys are skeletal in their appearance, and need long-term care by medical professionals.
In Iraq & the Mosul Zoo
Similar conditions exist in Iraq. Last October, the Mozul Zoo was abandoned by it keepers when ISIS fighters used the facility’s vantage point as a staging ground. Over the course of three months, more than forty of the zoo animals died as result of collateral damage and starvation.
By January, when the eastern half of Mosul was freed by the Iraqi Army, only two animals had survived.
Mozul Animal Survivors
The survivors were Lula, a caramel-colored female bear and Simba, a three-year old lion.
Animals, similar to human military combatants suffer from PTSD. During the most intense Middle East combat in history, Lula resorted to eating her two cubs as a result of hunger and stress. Simba had been one of three lions. Simba’s father, weak and emaciated, was killed by his mate to provide food for herself and Simba. In the wild, lionesses hunt for the entire pride. However, she too soon died, leaving only Simba as the pride's last survivor.
Rescue efforts . . .
Concerned about similar fates facing Lula and Simba, Mosul residents posted frantic Facebook messages to Four Paws International, an animal-protection agency based in Austria, in a last-ditch appeal for outside assistance.
In mid-February, the organization sent Amir Khalil to Mosul. Khalil is an Egyptian veterinarian who has spent the last couple of decades saving animals in war zones on three continents. He found Lula deeply traumatized and starving; her snout protruded through her cage’s rusted bars, anxiously seeking water and sustenance. Simba had grown so scrawny that his rib cage was physically exposed and he displayed signs of intense stress, where he couldn't stop pacing in his small zoo enclosure.
“Lula and Simba were in very bad condition,” Khalil said. “We didn’t know if they would survive if we tried to get them out. I had to improve their health first.”
All’s Well that Ends Well . . .
This heart-breaking saga had a happy ending.
On April 10th, Khalil obtained clearance from the local authorities to fly Lula and Simba to Amman, Jordan. There, they were transferred to the New Hope Center, an animal-rehabilitation facility. After stabilizing, their final destination is earmarked for Jordan’s Al Ma’wa Wildlife Reserve, which was founded in 2015 by Four Paws and the Princess Alia Foundation. It is the largest sanctuary for rescued and mistreated wildlife in the Middle East.