Udai Hussein's lions find a better home at the Baghdad Zoo
August 5, 2004
BAGHDAD — There’s no Army job classification for lion tamer, but some soldiers of the 425th Civil Affairs Battalion can add the job description to their resume after they recently helped move nine lions to the Baghdad Zoo.
Three of the lions, a male and two females, had belonged to Saddam Hussein’s son, Udai, and were captured by the 3rd Infantry Division during the fall of Baghdad. Shortly after that, six cubs were born, bringing the total number of lions under Army control to nine.
The cats had been kept in a 33-by-66 cage at Forward Operating Base Warrior, home to the Arkansas National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 153rd Infantry Regiment, in the International Zone, formerly called the Green Zone, of central Baghdad.
“They’re all in good condition, all things considered,” said Baghdad Zoo veterinarian Brendan Whittington-Jones. “They would just be better off in the zoo where they can get the proper care.”
On the day of the move, pairs of cats were tranquilized by zoo veterinarians. Once asleep, they had their paws taped together, bags put over their heads and were then carried on Army litters into armored Humvees for the brief drive to the zoo.
The cubs each weighed about 200 pounds, with the adult male — named Prince Brutus — much larger than that. Brutus was taken to the zoo in the back of a Ford F-250.
“We don’t know too much about the three adult lions,” said Whittington-Jones, a South Africa native. “The male, Brutus, came from a Russian circus in 1998.
“Zina and Heather, the two lionesses, were probably some kind of pet because they have been declawed,” he said.
At the zoo they were carried into their new home, a 165-by-165 pen paid for by the 1st Cavalry Division. Financial support also came from the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, Whittington-Jones told Army officials.
The lions’ new enclosure has plenty of room, with trees, vegetation and low metal platforms for the nine cats to climb on and explore.
“It’s good for them to stay together as a family,” Whittington-Jones said. “They’re social animals.”
The move has drawn mixed feelings from soldiers at Forward Operating Base Warrior.
“Their home now is six times bigger than what they had here,” said 1st Lt. Gorden Gregson of the 1-153rd’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company. “It’s cleaner, cooler and much nicer.”
But, he said, that doesn’t take away a feeling of loss.
“I look at our babies’ empty room and get that sad feeling,” Gregson said. “It’s like our babies have gone to college. It’s one of those ‘Born Free’ stories. They’ll be missed.”