Obit of the Day: The Man Who Saved the Baghdad Zoo
Lawrence Anthony was a South African insurance salesman who ended up working to preserve lands for the animals of Africa including the creation of two game reserves. But his most dramatic work occurred just after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Baghdad was the home to the largest zoo in the Middle East. Lawrence Anthony realized that few people would care for, or about, the animals placed in harm’s way by war. After receiving no response to his concerns from the British or American governments, Anthony took matters into his own hands and headed for Baghdad.
Allowed to cross into Iraq by sympathetic Kuwaiti soldiers, Anthony brought a truck of veterinary supplies and was assisted by two Kuwaiti zoo workers. It would not be enough. The zoo was in shambles. Animals had escaped, or been released. (One bear had killed looters.) Others were dead. Those that were still in cages were severely dehydrated and not been fed in weeks. Anthony set to work to fix the zoo. Soon after he was being helped by American soldiers and former members of Saddam’s Republican Guard. Even local mullahs told their followers to leave Anthony alone.
By the time he left six months later, the surviving animals were nursed back to health, the zoo repaired, and it was once again open for visitors. Anthony was recognized by the UN as well as the US Army 3rd Infantry Division for his work. In 2007, Anthony and Graham Spence, released a book documenting the experience of rebuilding the zoo - Babylon’s Ark. (There are plans to turn the story into a film. Mr. Anthony thought Brad Pitt should play him.)
Lawrence Anthony, who was also called “The Elephant Whisperer” for his work with nine rogue elephants in the late ’90s, died at the age of 61.
(Image of Mr. Anthony and an elephant, because why not, is courtesy of the Guardian)