BAGHDAD (AP) — The Baghdad Zoo on Friday welcomed a pair of rare Bengal tiger cubs that were donated by a North Carolina animal sanctuary despite protests by animal rights activists.
The tigers — a male and a female named Riley and Hope — frolicked with red and blue balls in a wading pool and playfully wrestled with each other in their cage, while U.S. soldiers and journalists snapped pictures and delighted Iraqis strolled by.
The animals, which were donated by the North Carolina-based Conservators’ Center, arrived Monday after being flown to Baghdad from the United States in a $66,000 trip funded by the U.S. Embassy and transported to the zoo by the U.S. military.
Like many other Iraqi institutions, the Baghdad Zoo is struggling to emerge from years of devastation amid the violence that followed the U.S. invasion in March 2003 and officials showed off the tigers as proof of progress.
U.S. military and zoo officials said they had spent more than a year preparing for the tigers’ arrival and expressed confidence their care would meet international standards.
[Zoo director Adel Salman] Mousa said the veterinarian staff has been trained to care for the tigers, who would be fed 13 to 18 pounds (six to eight kilograms) of red meat each day. It was the first foreign donation of animals to the zoo, which has 788 animals in 62 exhibits, he said.
Mousa also said he hoped to add more in the future to provide important educational opportunities for Iraqi youths. An elephant and a giraffe were at the top of his wish list.
The zoo, which was established in 1973 and owned by Saddam’s feared son, Odai, has enjoyed a revival with the recent decline in violence, boasting an average of 2,000-3,000 visitors on weekdays and 10,000 on the weekend, according to Mousa. That was up from about 120 per day in 2006, when sectarian attacks were pushing the country to the brink of civil war.