By Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
Multi-National Division - Central
BAGHDAD – The Baghdad Zoo hosts just about every animal Iraqi families and children might expect to see, from lions and bears to ostriches.
The only one missing was the tiger. On Aug. 8, 2008, the zoo officially welcomed Riley and Hope, two Siberian-Bengal tigers, to their animal kingdom.
"This is a very important step to improve relationships [between] the zoo and the people of Iraq, and it is proof that the security situation in Iraq is getting better," said Adel Salman Mousa, the Baghdad Zoo director.
Riley and Hope, male and female respectively, were donated by the Conservators' Center in North Carolina.
"They're a real signature species; people really identify with the beauty of the tigers," said Lt. Col. Robert Sindler, the Multi-National Coalition – Iraq veterinary officer who helped bring the tigers to Baghdad.
When Sindler first spoke with the zoo director, he asked which animal the park needed most. The tiger topped his list.
"The zoo has been a real gem for the people here in Iraq ... and the tigers will really add to that," he said.
Sindler is a veterinarian in Orlando when not serving in the military. As such, he had personal clients in the U.S. who owned tigers. After some talking and coordination with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Sindler found the right pair of tigers and the owners willing to donate cats to benefit the people of Iraq.
The process took the joint effort of civil affairs representatives, military veterinarians, provincial reconstruction teams, Iraqi and Coalition forces and the U.S. Embassy Baghdad, Iraq over the course of more than six months.
The two tigers travelled from North Carolina, to the John F. Kennedy Airport, N.Y., to Bahrain and finally arrived in Baghdad Aug. 4. A veterinarian tended to the tigers throughout the entire trip.
The embassy covered the transportation and associated costs, as it often funds development projects in Iraq.
"The zoo's a vibrant part of the economic and social revitalization of Baghdad. Supporting this project fits these goals," said Allan J. Jones, of Orlando, who works for the U.S. Embassy Baghdad as the program manager for the U.S. Department of State, Iraq Transition Assistance Office.
Prior to coordinating the donation and transportation, Sindler ensured the zoo was in capable condition to care for the animals. He worked alongside the Division Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), which has been helping restore the zoo for the people of Iraq to enjoy.
"It's making a huge turnaround," said Captain Jason Felix, of Tucson, Ariz., the tiger project manager under DSTB, 2nd BCT, 101st Abn. Div. "It's a nice place where kids can go. It's safe."
Before Riley and Hope's arrival, an exotic-animal and a USDA veterinarian conducted inspections and approved the zoo's ability to maintain the animals. Furthermore, Sindler and Felix organized a way for Adel, top staff and the zoo veterinarian to visit the Chester Zoo in London for two weeks of advanced training.
"In my professional opinion ... they're very capable to be able to handle these cats," Sindler said.
With a full mix of animals, the zoo can serve not only as a recreational park, but also as an educational experience. Sindler said the zoo teaches visitors about animals throughout the world, their significance and the importance of conservation.
"To me, those tigers are almost like a symbol of power and pride, and it's good to restore them back to the zoo," said Maj. Frederick Zink, of Piedmont, S.C., veterinarian for Multi-National Division – Center, who helped supervise the transport from the Baghdad International Airport to the zoo.
"I don't have any discomforts, really," Sindler said. "I don't anticipate any problems for the tigers being there [considering the zoo's] ability to handle them, both humanely and properly."
This work, Baghdad Zoo regains signature with new tigers, by MSG Michel Sauret, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.