Located in the heart of al-Zawra entertainment park in Baghdad, Iraq, the Baghdad zoo once housed 650 animals. Saddam Hussein closed the zoo for renovations in the Spring of 2002, but instead turned it into a quasi-military base. The zoo was later ravaged during the 2003 U.S. invasion. The zoo reopened to the public on July 20, 2003, and featured 86 animals, including all 19 surviving lions.
It was built in 1971, but according to 18th-century standards, containing small confinement spaces that border on animal cruelty. After the first Gulf War, Iraq's zoos suffered from U.N sanctions which limited particular foods, medicines and vaccines.
For their own safety, zoo workers suspended feeding the animals in early April, 2003 when U.S. forces began its invasion of Baghdad. The zoo became a battlefield and the deserted animals were forced to fend for themselves. During the absence of zoo officials, the zoo was looted. Cages were torn open by thieves who took birds and goats. Looters raided the grounds, stealing the less formidable animals and exotic birds. Some of the birds and game animals were eaten. The remaining animals were found in critical condition. Animals were found roaming the zoo grounds. Mandor, a 20-year-old Siberian tiger that was the personal property of Uday Hussein, and Sudqa, a nine-year-old lioness, were found starving in their cages.
South African, Lawrence Anthony, was appointed to bring normalcy back to the zoo and care for the remaining animals.
There are now more than 80 animals at the zoo, the balance of which were rescued around Baghdad after the war, including lions, tigers, brown bears, wolves, foxes, jackals, camels, ostrich, badgers and some primates.
Although the zoo has been re-opened, not many people visit because of the dangers of traveling the Baghdad streets.
On September 18, 2003, a group of U.S. soldiers had a party in the zoo after it had closed. One soldier passed through a first cage intended only for keepers and approached a second cage housing a Bengal tiger. The soldier attempted to feed the tiger through the cage bars, but the tiger bit and scratched the soldier. A second soldier shot and killed the tiger.