The last two surviving animals at a zoo in war-torn Iraq have been rescued, reports the New York Times.
Found abandoned in February, Lula the bear and Simba the lion were starving and living in cages filled with feces and urine. Lula was also suffering from pneumonia. Simba had a joint condition, and both animals had severe diarrhea and rotting teeth. Locals were trying to look after and feed the remaining bear and lion, whose future looked grim.
While Iraqi forces and Islamic State militants have battled on for months, the many animals who once lived at the Montazah Al-Morour Zoo in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, have either died in the bombings, died of starvation or escaped. According to Four Paws International, an animal rescue and welfare organization based in Vienna, approximately 40 animals at the zoo died in recent months.
A rescue team from Four Paws made multiple attempts to save the remaining animals but was stopped at the checkpoint. “We never got to know the exact details why we were not allowed to pass, but, of course, transporting large wild animals in an area with such a complex political situation is not easy,” Amir Khalil, the veterinarian leading the Four Paws rescue mission, told the New York Times.
The group, including Khalil, visited the zoo in February and arranged regular feedings for Lula and Simba, as well as cage cleaning and veterinary care. ABC News reports that Khalil learned Simba’s mother died of starvation; locals buried her body next to his cage. Lula had been a mother, but her cubs had not survived. Many of the zoo’s caretakers had also died in the ongoing conflict.
Before leaving Mosul, Khalil and his team trained local volunteers on how to properly care for Lula and Simba, giving them four weeks’ worth of food and medicine while they worked on a permanent rescue plan. The video from National Geographic below shows the dire situation.
Four Paws returned to negotiate with Iraqi officials once more and after much back and forth, staff was finally allowed to enter the active war zone. They then began the complicated process of rescuing and transporting the animals on March 28. Their journey was long and fraught, including a total of 12 days stuck at the border before reaching an animal refuge center in Jordan.
“Our mission in Iraq was supported by many locals and proved that even in worst hardships there are people who care for animals,” Khalil told ABC News. “I am very touched to have experienced the humanity of the civilian population as well as military. Many of the soldiers shared their food with the animals.”
Simba and Lula’s new home, the New Hope Centre in Amman, was established by Princess Alia Al Hussein of Jordan. It is the biggest wildlife shelter in the Middle East.
“It was an odyssey,” Khalil said. “From the beginning, these animals wanted to survive.”