After the tragedy that befell the Baghdad Zoo in the first war and the heroic efforts of Lawrence Anthony to bring relief to the animals imprisoned there, I had thought the zoo had faded into gentle obsolescence – but I was wrong!
It appears that plans are now afoot to spend something in the order of $500 million developing a 50-acre site where the zoo is currently located in the centre of Baghdad to create a US-style theme park with rides, amusements …….. and an expanded zoo.
It does seem to me that this is an entirely flawed strategy for a number of reasons. The first, not least, is that Baghdad is, to all intents and purposes, a war-zone. The thought of what those animals must be experiencing as shells explode and bombs go off, can only be imagined. The idea that anyone would want to bring more animals in seems to me to be without reason.
But there are other aspects to consider.
There are huge humanitarian requirements in Baghdad which are still a challenge – shortage of water, power outrages, security, education and health. Iraq’s natural environment has been starved of cash to support conservation and environmental protection in many areas and surely could do with this sort of funding.
Iraq’s indigenous species are firmly off the radar. We hear precious little about what is happening to species found only in that part of the world. Conservation has taken a distant backseat.
Then there is the question of cultural suitability. Do the people of Iraq, and more specifically, the people of Baghdad, want a western-style US-conceived fun park imposed on their city? Are the rides and side-shows and captive animals on display really what they would desire if they had the choice?
I know that it was reported on Fox News in April that one of the moving forces behind this development, a Mr Llewellen Werner, Chairman of C3, a Los Angeles-based holding company for private equity firms, is quoted as saying “I wouldn’t be doing this if I wasn’t making money…….. mostly everything here is for profit”
If peace is to come to Iraq through winning the hearts and minds then I would suggest that a fun park and a zoo, a distraction at best, and a waste at worst, is not the route to go. I hope that the Government of Iraq reconsiders this proposal most carefully.