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The forgotten victims of war; ANIMALS TRAPPED IN SADDAM'S ZOO HELL.

Byline: RUKI SAYID

THEIR sadistic masters are long gone but, unlike the people of Iraq, these prisoners of Saddam Hussein's cruel regime are still awaiting liberation.

Mandor, Saddam's pitiful tiger, languishes in Baghdad's zoo, his body emaciated, a weeping sore on his forehead infested with flies.

His sorrowful green eyes have a haunted look and this once magnificent creature spends every day incessantly pacing his cramped cage.

A few miles away, lioness Xena, her mate Brutus and their six tiny cubs pace their restrictive surroundings in the grounds of Uday Hussein's Baghdad palace.

Today, The Irish Daily Mirror joins forces with British charity Care For The Wild International to launch "Operation Lion King" to save Mandor and his fellow inmates from starvation and to rescue Xena and her brood from their palace prison.

As plans are made to airlift them to a South African sanctuary, chief executive Dr Barbara Maas will fly to Baghdad this week to spearhead a mission to improve conditions for Mandor and the other zoo animals which survived the bombs and looters.

She said: "The lion cubs are gorgeous and it's a miracle they are alive. There are three girls and three boys which we would love Mirror readers to sponsor. It is going to cost us pounds 15,000 to transport them to South Africa so any donations would be very welcome."

Operation Lion King will see the pride rehoused at the Sanwild sanctuary in the Limpopo province - a lush paradise a million miles from the spartan enclosure offered by the vile Uday and his father Saddam.

Barbara said: "Once the lions reach South Africa, they will have their own enclosure where they will stay for nine months and learn to hunt. If they do learn to hunt they will then be moved to the Ngome Wildlife Reserve - but no matter what, they are going home to Africa."

BUT the future is less certain for Mandor and the other animals left traumatised by the six-week bombing blitz on Baghdad.

Those animals not stolen by looters were found by Barbara in stinking cages, covered in their own excrement, starving and severely dehydrated in temperatures of 43C.

Barbara, who first visited the Baghdad Zoo last month after seeing harrowing pictures on TV, says: "Mandor is still in a tiny cage and his eyes are just full of despair. He looks so haunted that it's heart breaking.

"He has lived in that small cage for 22 years with only the buzzing of the flies to distract him. He is old, but deserves to live out his last days in better conditions."

Barbara, who has already delivered 1.5 tonnes of food and 120 kilos of veterinary medicine to the zoo, is heading back to check on the welfare of all the animals.

The 43-year-old Cambridge educated animal expert is also masterminding the rescue of a blind bear.

Caged in a pen built to house dogs, the 30-year-old female bear - nicknamed Belinda - is caked in flies and dirt. She tries to keep cool by dipping her massive limbs in a pathetic water bowl which measures just 12 inches square. Barbara says: "Her cage is out of a horror movie - every fly in Baghdad has set up home there."

But there is hope for Belinda. She will live out her final days in luxury - Care In The Wild is airlifting her to the Arcturos bear sanctuary in northern Greece.

Apart from the rescue of the bear and lions, the charity has pledged to pay the wages of zoo staff for three months to ensure the animals are cared for. And Barbara has also liberated dogs, many of them caged as curiosities in the privately owned Lunar Park, half-an-hour's drive from Baghdad Zoo.

The bedraggled collection were all suffering from neglect and malnutrition. Most have now been adopted by American soldiers who plan to take them home when they finally leave Baghdad.

UDAY Hussein's own alsatian, Leo, has already gone back to the US with a special operations officer who could not bear to leave the dog behind after befriending him.

Barbara said: "Leo was adorable. He was completely neglected but a very loving dog desperate for some care and attention. He adored being petted and, if you called his name, he would follow you everywhere." French movie legend Brigitte Bardot and her foundation have been helping to fund the dogs' evacuation and UK charity Born Free will be helping rehouse the lions.

But there are also wolves, a gazelle, a camel, foxes and more lions and bears who are in need of food, clean water and care.

Barbara says: "The zoo has eight adult lions and a couple of year-old cubs who had been locked in a cage because a stray bomb had knocked out the wall around their enclosure.

"Thankfully, that has now been rebuilt by the Americans and the lions are back outside, but they have nowhere to shelter from the heat.

"I don't think there is a single happy animal in that zoo and although we are able to feed and water them, their conditions are far from satisfactory. There was even a camel who was slumped on the ground. Her head was flipped back and she was in a terrible state. It takes an awful lot to reduce a camel to that state.

"At first I thought she was dead, but I managed to get her to take some water and a few scraps of bread. As I crouched down beside her she rested her head on my lap.

"It was like she was saying 'Thank you'. I just wept."

Now Camilla is recovering at Baghdad Zoo.

Barbara says: "They all deserve a better life but their long-term future is uncertain - it all depends on funding."

-FOR more details on the Baghdad Zoo appeal visit the charity's website at www.careforthewild.org or contact them on 0044 1306 627900.

CAPTION(S):

DESPAIR: Mandor paces his cage while Belinda the bear and Xena and her cubs await rescue from their tiny pens; RESCUE: Dr Barbara Maas Picture: MIKE MOORE
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 17, 2003
Words:1012
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