The Tripoli Zoo in Libya had already been closed for some time for renovations when the Libya uprising that would lead to the overthrow of Muammar el-Gaddafi broke out at the start of 2011. The animals in the zoo, which was located near the late Libyan dictator’s Bab al-Aziziya compound — and therefore near some of the heaviest fighting — were simply left where they were as Gaddafi supporters and the rebels who have now become part of the interim government, the National Transitional Council (NTC), clashed in the streets. Missiles were fired over the zoo grounds and Kalashnikovs strafed the mammal house; the hippos’ enclosure was hit by a NATO rocket which, fortunately, did not explode. Fifteen zoo staff managed to feed and water the animals, who otherwise might have died after three or four days.
After Tripoli came under the NTC’s control, a team of animal-welfare experts from Austria’s Four Paws International arrived. At least one animal, a Siberian tiger, Osama, did not survive. Osama was 21 years old and his age and stress contributed to his death, according to Dr. Amir Khalil, a doctor from Vienna. Hippos, traumatized by the near-destroyal of their enclosure and constant gunfire, initially hid when people approached and refused food; they are reportedly recovering from the stress. A Bengal tiger bit its own tail so hard during the unrest that zoo staff had to amputate it.
In September, the NTC had pledged that it would support the zoo and a BBC report from last week says that the zoo will open in a few months.
The Tripoli Zoo opened in 1986 and is the largest in North Africa; at its height, it housed 1,000 animals including 22 lions, nine of which belonged to Gaddafi’s son, Saadi (who is currently a guest of the country of Niger, after a plot to smuggle him and his family to Mexico was discovered). The zoo houses a liger (a hybrid of a lion and a tiger); 33 baboons; pelicans; a chimpanzee named Bosco who the late Congolese president Mobutu Sese Seko once gave to Gaddafi.
A Tripoli brigade has assumed control of the zoo and still patrols it for security purposes. A national security force will eventually be responsible for these duties. The funding that has been provided to the zoo by charities will end at the start of 2012; the IFAW says that it costs about $2,000 a day to feed the animals. But Tripoli Zoo Director Anas Ali al-Aghab is hopeful. As he told The Toronto Star in November:
“… when we open our doors again, they will be open as never before. After so many years of isolation, now we hope to share and to learn the best care and technical standards possible. Things may still be unsettled. But we see a very bright future ahead.”
Indeed, on the last day of October, one of the African lions that belonged to Saadi Gaddafi gave birth to two cubs. A pair of white lions — 300 of whom are known to exist — will reach breeding age by 2012; they were owned by Saif al-Islam, Gaddafi’s second and more prominent son who is being held in the city of Zintan after his capture last month.
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Photo of a white lion taken in South Africa by MyAngelG