Saturday, March 08, 2003

IRAQI CHIMPANZEES IN DIRE STRAITS

Animals fast dying off at Baghdad's lone zoo; at risk in any war

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The entrance gate at Baghdad's only working zoo is painted with cheery pictures of elephants, lions and tigers grazing on a vast savanna, but the schoolchildren rushing inside see none.

They gape at eight chickens, two cocker spaniels and a family of goats. They taunt a northern Iraqi bear and a dirt-caked, bone-thin camel with bald spots on its legs and neck, and laugh as two tired chimpanzees unwrap pieces of chewing gum passed through a chain-link fence....

The animals' conditions are bad — but could soon get worse. There are few plans for their care if a threatened U.S.-led war on Iraq begins, and Jolan conceded that even what plans there are could easily fall apart....

Jolan said conditions at the zoo started to decline when the United Nations imposed sanctions on Iraq 13 years ago for invading its neighbor, Kuwait. Medicine and specialized food became more expensive, and more difficult to import....

Blame also rests on Jolan and his workers. Animals sit in cages without water. Attendants feed candy bars to the bear and poke the hyena with a stick to make it more lively....