In April 2003, in the opening days of the Iraq War, the Baghdad Zoo was bombed, its animals released or taken.
Watching the war unfold on television, South African conservationist Lawrence Anthony became determined to travel to Baghdad and save what animals he could. Upon arrival, Anthony discovered Dr. Husham Hussan, the zoo’s vet, daily risking his life in an effort to feed and hydrate the few remaining creatures, including a Bengal tiger, a blind brown bear, several lions, a lynx and a few boars. Baboons, monkeys and various birds, all of whom had escaped their damaged cages, freely wandered the zoo grounds.
With the zoo’s water pumps broken, the two men ferried water to the parched animals bucketful by bucketful from a nearby canal, an all-day job in 115 – degree heat. Although still engaged in combat, American soldiers offered to help, giving the animals their MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) and “liberating” crucial supplies, ranging from cleaning solvents to generators to food for the zoo staff. In addition to saving the zoo’s animals, Anthony and his team rescued lions from one of Saddam’s son’s “love nests: closed down a black-market exotic-animal ring and rounded up some of Saddam’s prized Arabian horses.