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Baghdad Zoo Welcomes Two New Tigers

American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 11, 2008 – The Baghdad Zoo officially welcomed two Siberian-Bengal tigers, Riley and Hope, to its animal kingdom Aug. 8.

Riley and Hope, male and female respectively, were donated by the Conservators' Center in North Carolina.

"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.

"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 was first on his list.

"The zoo has been a real gem for the people here in Iraq ... and the tigers will really add to that," Sindler said. 

After coordination with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Sindler found the right pair of tigers and the owners willing to donate the 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 more than six months.

The two tigers travelled from North Carolina to the John F. Kennedy Airport, N.Y., then to Bahrain and finally 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, 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 capable of caring 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.

"It's making a huge turnaround," said Captain Jason Felix, the tigers' military project manager. "It's a nice place where kids can go. It's safe."

Before Riley and Hope's arrival, 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, 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."

(Multinational Force Iraq Press Release)

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