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Zoo chief appeals for funds

Los Angeles, May 29 (Reuters): The interim administrator of the Baghdad zoo yesterday appealed to zoo and animal welfare groups to help raise $1 million for the once-splendid facility, which was badly damaged and had many of its animals stolen during the US-led war against Iraq.

Lawrence Anthony, trustee of the Thula Thula Private Game Reserve in Zululand and interim head of the Baghdad zoo, said the animals were no longer in danger of starving to death or being eaten by desperate Iraqis, but the facility’s long-term survival was in jeopardy. “We need funds badly,” Anthony said during a visit to Los Angeles. “If we leave it, it will fall down.”

The American Zoo Association and the International Fund for Animal Welfare have agreed to pitch in funds to rebuild the 2,000-acre facility and provide experts to train the zoo’s 38 staff.

“The buildings are new but they were practicing 18th century zoo-keeping — small cages and bars,” said Anthony, who was appointed by the US to help run the zoo.

The Zoo Association also agreed to help replace the 250 animals that disappeared during the battle over Baghdad.

”We need the animals back in there so the zoo can pay for itself,” he said.“We want American zoos to come in and have a look at it Ä the zoo grounds are magnificent. It has the potential to be a fabulous zoo.”

Anthony arrived in Baghdad shortly before the conflict began.“I knew the war was coming and knew there was a big and important zoo in Baghdad and ... that something could be done about this important Iraqi institution,” he said.

The Baghdad Zoo, the region's largest zoo that last year boasted attendance of 1.5 million, was a major battlefield during the war. Many of the animals that were not killed in the massive U.S. bombing campaign were stolen by looters or left to roam the streets.

”We have a lot of lions, tigers, bears Ä if it could bite them they left it,” Anthony said.“I think they ate what they could eat and the rest they sold.”

Most of the zoo staff fled or abandoned the remaining animals because there was no money to feed them or to pay the workers. They have since been lured back.

Anthony managed to secure food Ä shelling out his own money to buy donkeys that he fed to the big cats or cajoling shipments of meat from Kuwait Ä but first had to protect it from zoo workers who had not been paid in months.

”The staff were eating the food because they were as hungry as the lions,” Anthony said.“We fed the staff until they didn't steal the animals' food.”

Since the conflict ended, conditions have steadily improved: the animals have been fed daily, their cages are cleaned regularly and unexploded bombs are slowly being removed from the grounds.

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