Security improvements help Baghdad Zoo attendance
January 27, 2009
BAGHDAD — Iraq’s security improvements are even affecting animals at the Baghdad Zoo.
Zoo visitation climbed from 1 million in 2007 to more than 5 million in 2008 as Iraqis grew more comfortable traveling to Baghdad’s Karkh district, where the zoo and its surrounding Zawra park are located.
"This place is relatively inexpensive and it is the only place, as a park, where people can get away from the crowded parts of the city," said Adel Salman Mousa, the zoo director.
The price is certainly right for a first date. For just 250 dinars, or less than a quarter, visitors can see a variety of animals including chimpanzees and Bengal tigers donated by a North Carolina animal sanctuary. The zoo also houses the famed man-eating lions that one of Saddam Hussein’s sons kept, although zoo veterinarian Wasseen Sarih said their reputation is overblown. The workers are especially fond of the pride’s friendly male lion.
"We like to play with him," he said.
During Baghdad’s worst days, residents couldn’t visit the zoo because leaving their own neighborhood meant they would risk getting kidnapped or killed.
"People were not venturing into this area," Mousa said.
But Karkh’s security risk in recent months has been negligible, while the zoo and park haven’t had any incidents other than "typical criminal activity," said Lt. Col. Robert Kirby, commander of 4th Battalion, 42nd Artillery Regiment, the American unit in charge of Karkh. Most of the time, the park’s own guards are sufficient to watch over Zawra, while Iraqi forces secure the park during special events.
People now travel to the park from outside the city to see the zoo. On Fridays and Saturdays, the zoo and the park that surrounds it are filled mostly with families, Sarih said.
The rest of the week, it is a popular place for young couples, including unmarried couples who cuddle, a sight you wouldn’t see in most other parts of Baghdad.
With visitation up so much, these lions are sure to be getting a lot more attention.