The conditions in which a zoo lion and bear lived until their rescue gives us an insight into the ways war affects animals.
In 2014, Daesh terrorists invaded the city of Mosul in Iraq. During the invasion, employees of the Montazah al-Morour Zoo had to abandon the animals under their care. From that time on, nearly all of the animals perished. Some starved or succumbed to disease. Some, meanwhile, were caught in the crossfire as Iraqi military fought to take Mosul back from Daesh.
Mosul residents gave a harrowing account of how war affects animals. People took it upon themselves to feed and care for the animals, until the fighting became too intense and dangerous. They recount a time when a shell hit and damaged the zoo, releasing monkeys from their enclosures.
Veterinarians from the animal welfare organization Four Paws International came to the Montazah al-Morour Zoo in February of this year. The zoo once housed lions, monkeys, rabbits, bears, and exotic birds. Four Paws International came upon a war-torn facility in which most of the animals had died. However, two animals, a lion and a bear, still lived.
Simba the lion and Lula the bear were trapped in their enclosures, which were filled with rubble. Both animals were suffering from malnourishment and tooth decay. Simba had an illness in the joints, as well as skin lesions and eye inflammation. Lula, meanwhile, had pneumonia and diarrhea. The rescue team said that both animals were close to death.
The veterinarians treated Simba and Lula's conditions and cleaned their enclosures as well. Local volunteers stepped up and underwent training to provide the animals with proper care. However, with things in Mosul in a dangerous and unpredictable state, the animals had to leave and go someplace safer.
That, unfortunately, was easier said than done. Four Paws International returned to Mosul a month later to evacuate the animals to safety. In this first attempt, Iraqi authorities detained the people transporting the animals at a checkpoint and kicked them out of Mosul. Simba and Lula had to return to the uncertain safety of the Montazah al-Morour Zoo.
Finally, the time came when authorities permitted Simba and Lula to leave Mosul and make their way to Jordan.
As the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished. Veterinarian Amir Kahlil, who led the rescue team that brought Simba and Lula out of Mosul, has faced a lot of criticisms for his actions. There are about 400,000 people still living in war-torn Mosul, unable to leave. Dr. Kahlil's critics questioned his focus on saving animals when hundreds of thousands of people were suffering.
Still, Dr. Kahlil stands by his actions. War affects animals and humans alike, especially animals who had relied on the care of humans for almost their entire lives. It's no surprise that an abandoned zoo animal needs to be cared for in order to survive. The fact alone that nearly all of the animals in the Montazah al-Morour Zoo died is a testament to the necessity of transporting Simba and Lula to safety.
Simba and Lula are now safely in Amman, Jordan.
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