Baghdad's once ravaged zoo comes back to life

Tue Nov 17, 2009 7:46am EST
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By Muhanad Mohammed

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - More than six years after the U.S. invasion left Iraq's main zoo a wasteland of starving animals and deserted cages, the park in central Baghdad is enjoying a vigorous revival and needs to grow.

Few Iraqis ventured into Baghdad Zoo during the violence that surged after the 2003 invasion. But as the bombings and shootings receded, families started to return in droves -- so many, in fact, that officials are now desperate to expand the park which is home for the zoo to make space for them all.

The zoo has replaced the hundreds of animals that escaped, were stolen, died of thirst or hunger or were shot by U.S. troops and now has 1,070 animals, said the director general of parks and gardens, Salah Abu al-Lail.

"In the coming days we will receive an elephant and a giraffe. Their arrival will complete our collection of animals living in the zoo," he said.

The Al-Zawraa park containing the zoo -- once the largest in the Middle East -- now teems with families on Fridays.

A sharp fall in overall violence in Iraq over the past 18 months and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from city centers in June has restored a tentative normality to the daily lives of many Iraqis. Attacks by insurgents, including massive suicide bombings in which dozens die, remain common, however.

"When security improved, we started to live our normal lives again after a dark period of violence," said teacher Basima Abbas, visiting the zoo with her children. "We want to live normal lives like everyone else in the world."

The Zawraa Park is guarded inside by special police units assigned to government facilities. Visitors are frisked for weapons while bags and picnic baskets are checked for explosives. During holidays, all roads leading to the park are closed.   Continued...

<p>An Iraqi family have a lunch meal during their visit to Al-Zawraa park in Baghdad, November 6, 2009. REUTERS/Mohammed Ameen</p>