In the eastern part of the city of Mosul, in Iraq, used to stand the once splendid Montazah-Al-Morour Zoo. With its verdant walks and lively playground, it was a beloved destination for animal lovers and families.
But when members of the terrorist organization Daesh (or ISIS) assaulted the city in 2014, the district in which the zoo was located was convulsed by heavy fighting. The worse the battles got, the harder it was for zoo employees to make their way to work, get access to the enclosures, and take care of the animals.
The campaign for Mosul lasted nearly four months. One zookeeper continued stealing into the facility to bring the animals whatever food the closest neighbors could spare. But as reserves were diminished, there wasn’t enough and the situation deteriorated quickly.
“When the battle intensified, it was impossible for the guard and animal handler to reach them,” the zoo’s owner explained.
The animals began to collapse of hunger and thirst. Two out of the four lions died and the remaining two were reduced to eating the carcasses. A volunteer from the Kurdistan Organization for Animal Rights Protection decried the circumstances: “It’s shameful to watch the animals struggle, they need help. They are not connected to the war.”
Bullets occasionally even reached the animal’s cages, sending them racing for cover, deeper into their enclosures as the fighting continued mercilessly on the streets.
When the battle abated at last, a resistance group managed to get in to the desperate animals. What they found broke even the most hardened hearts: hardly any of the wild beasts had survived.
A lion had to watch his emaciated lioness companion wither and die of hunger. The aid workers couldn’t do anything but bury her now.
A bear was curled up near the bars of his enclosure, pressing his snout through with his last of his strength, waiting for sustenance.
The workers took pictures of the terrible conditions and an anonymous resistance blogger called Mosul Eye uploaded them with a despairing plea for help.
The horrifying photographs had the desired impact: the call for help spread far and wide, bringing much needed resources to the devastated zoo. Dr. Sulaim Tameer Saeed, founder of the above-mentioned KOARP organized deliveries to Mosul of chicken, vegetables, and fruits for the animals.
At the end of February extensive relief supplies were delivered, but members of the organization Four Paws International were dismayed to discover that they were too late for most of the zoo’s inhabitants.
Only two animals had survived: the lion Simba and the bear Lula. Even they were on the verge of death.
Their teeth had rotted, they hardly had the strength to move. Lula the bear had a bad lung infection. Vets managed to stabilize her with medication and food such that she should survive.
Aid workers stayed with both of them and have enough food to take care of them for four more weeks. Preparations for the future of these two are in top gear.
What an impressive effort: even in the middle of the greatest emergency people risked their lives to save the remaining animals at the zoo and aren’t stopping until they’ve secured at least the survival of these two creatures.
Simba and Lula couldn’t have gotten through this terrible war without the exertions of some incredibly caring people. Thank goodness that, at the very least, they made it.