Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tigers Bring Friendship to Iraq From America

Photo: Riley and Hope, the pair of tigers sent to the Baghdad Zoo from the Conservators' Center in North Carolina, relax in their new enclosure in Iraq on Aug. 8, 2008. Riley and Hope will entertain more than 10,000 visitors to the zoo every weekend and 2,000 to 3,000 on weekdays. Attendance is up by more than 300 percent from 2007, according to the zoo's director. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Joy Pariante, 13th Public Affairs Detachment

After traveling more than 7,000 miles, two Bengal tiger cubs have finally settled into their new home in Iraq. Amid much fanfare and excitement, Hope and Riley were introduced to the Baghdad Zoo on Aug. 8.

The tigers were a goodwill gesture from the North Carolina Conservators' Center, a breeding sanctuary for endangered species.

"We are building trust with America," said Dr. Adel Salman Mousa, the zoo's director. "We're building trust with a society that trusted us to care for these animals."

The cubs are just under 2 years old and weigh more than 150 pounds each. The Bengal tiger is an endangered species, with less than 3,000 worldwide.

"We hope to bring smiles back to the people and the children," Mousa said. "We want to put smiles back on their faces after years of misery. In addition to the enjoyment people will get from watching them, they will present opportunities for students and the public to learn about this and other endangered species."

"This is exemplary of how people in Iraq are taking the lead to improve the circumstances in Iraq," said Army Capt. Jason Felix, 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), whose unit was in charge of tiger transport following their Aug. 4 arrival at Baghdad International Airport.

Transporting the tigers here from the states cost more than $66,000 and was paid for by the U.S. Embassy.

Concerns have arisen about the safety of the tigers in a combat zone. During the early days of the liberation of Iraq in 2003, the zoo lost many of its animals to injury or starvation, including its tiger, which was shot when it began attacking a U.S. soldier. It was also difficult to maintain the zoo for many years prior to 2003 because of lack of medicine, vaccinations and often food, Mousa said.

Since then, coalition forces and the Iraqi people have been working to bring the zoo up to international standards of health and safety, Mousa said. "We currently consider the zoo in very good shape," Mousa said. He also pointed out that the zoo sits in a very safe part of the city and has 24-hour security inside and outside its gates.

The Baghdad Zoo gets about 10,000 visitors every Friday and Saturday and 2,000 to 3,000 on weekdays, Mousa said. This is up 300 percent from 2006 and years prior when zoo visitation was about 150 people per day.

The zoo features 62 exhibits with 788 animals. There is also an amusement park and swimming pool nearby.

Author Army Staff Sgt. Joy Pariante is assigned to 13th Public Affairs Detachment.
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