BAGHDAD, Iraq – Saedia, the blind bear, sleeps huddled in the fetal position in the corner of a small metal enclosure. An angry black dog lives in the bird cage, and the lynx (search) was last seen roaming around a nearby highway overpass.
The Baghdad zoo is in tatters. Looters have stolen or turned loose almost all the animals, and the dozen remaining have been so short of food that lions have been snacking on military rations U.S. soldiers toss inside their cages.
It's a situation U.S. soldiers and aid groups are trying to change.
Soldiers were welding together the shattered bars of the lions' den Monday, while U.S. officials gave workers $20 to come back to work.
The San Francisco-based group Wild Aid (search) gave most zoo employees $10 last week and plans to give each another $10 this week to help boost morale. Most employees had not been paid for two months. The United States has appointed a South African, Lawrence Anthony (search), to help run the zoo.
"My goal is to bring the zoo out of crisis," said Anthony, who runs a game reserve in South Africa. "We need everything. The looters took everything."
That included freeing almost all the zoo's 650 animals.
Zoo curator Abdel Salam Musa said the only animals not taken were the more formidable beasts, like the lions and the porcupine.
In the zoo now are Saedia the bear, who is 30 and blind from glaucoma; her male companion Saedi; two tigers; seven lions; three wild boars and the porcupine. Some of the lions were brought to the zoo from the palaces of Odai Hussein, a son of the deposed Iraqi leader.
The monkey cages are empty, the turtles are gone and there are rumors the peacock is up for bids at the bazaar.
"They can't keep them in their houses, so they try and sell them," Musa said. "Some animals, like the deer and gazelle, people can eat."
At the zoo, U.S. soldiers with assault rifles stood guard Monday. A sign by the entrance said: "Coalition soldiers are securing the area. If you are caught, you will be detained or shot. Please honor your free country."
After the fighting, angry and impoverished looters broke into the zoo and hunted ducks and peacocks, among other game.
"The civilians that were hungry pretty much came in here and ate everything that wouldn't eat them," said Cpl. Matthew St. Pierre of Steger, Ill.
Most zookeepers fled during the fighting, and many animals went without food for days, if not longer. Some were so skinny, St. Pierre said, "they could squeeze through the bars in the cage and get out."
After the government fell, Kuwait shipped in seven tons of frozen meat, fruit, vegetables and animal feed for the zoo. Wild Aid brought in 125 pounds of meat.
"The animals were famished," said Wild Aid's Stephan Bognar. Now, he said, "You can move them off the critically endangered category to just the critical."
When U.S. soldiers arrived, the animals were roaming freely, and they were forced to shoot a few lions. Three Iraqis were found dead, apparently mauled by a bear, Bognar said.
U.S. soldiers soon restored order and lured the animals back into confinement.
The bears wound up in small cages. Zoo workers can't afford a tranquilizer gun and are afraid to move them. But aid workers also gave the bears a shower, dousing them with a garden hose. Then they fed them a few cabbages.
Other animals, especially the lions, were fed at first by soldiers.
"We'd find dead birds and we'd just throw them in the cage," St. Pierre said.
Army rations also went in: "The ones we didn't like, we'd give them."