Zoos in war zones – an ongoing problem, and how to support the Tripoli Zoo appeal

Berlin Zoo's surviving elephant and the elephant house after bombing raids 1943/44

One persistent problem for war zones is the problem of civilians and “useless mouths” (as non-combatants in the Dunkirk area) in blitzed and bombed areas – pet, farm and zoo animals are often amongst these overlooked ‘civilians’. In my zoo career over the last fifteen to twenty years I have seen appeals for help for zoos in Cote D’Ivoire and  Kabul Zoo in Afghanistan, the famous rescue of the animals at Baghdad Zoo by South African Conservationist Lawrence Antony  (Author of Babylon’s Ark) and his team, as well as the early 90s rescue plans for Kuwait Zoo and Kosovo Zoo. 

Having been working on the history of zoos in wartime I am well aware of the scale of effects of wartime on  zoos ranging from severe shortages of food, staff and building materials at one end of the wartime survival scale to near destruction at Budapest, Berlin, Warsaw and many others. Some zoos improvised their way through in a ‘make do and mend’ way during the war and in the difficult years afterwards (using surplus tank traps as concrete blocks for building enclosures at Chester Zoo, still visible today) to feeding animals through ‘dig for victory’ allotment efforts, or  evacuating animals from Chessington Zoo near to our safer area of our  sister zoo at Paignton  or from London Zoo to Whipsnade.  Adoption schemes are one long-lived response to wartime shortages of money and food, when animals had no ration books.

Zoos are fragile and easily lost.  When zoos are struck by natural disasters from floods to earthquakes, there is usually a concerted response by one of the larger zoos supported by many others and countless individuals to see that, alongside the vital humanitarian rescue efforts, that the zoos and wildlife are given some support and protection in chaotic times. Zoo keeping is an international profession (in the past, one could have said brotherhood) and the tragedy of war has seen zoos isolated from their international cousins often for decades or even keepers called up in the past and fighting and dying on opposing sides.

The latest zoo to need this assistance is Tripoli Zoo, and I was delighted to read on the BIAZA website of the efforts being led  by the North Carolina Zoo, which BIAZA and many of its zoo members in theUK are supporting.

From the BIAZA website www.biaza.org.uk  

Give to Save the Animals at the Tripoli Zoo.

 In response to a request from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the North Carolina Zoo has agreed to lead the American zoo community’s response to the emergency welfare needs of animals living in the Tripoli Zoo. The AZA asked Zoo Director David Jones to oversee these welfare operations because of his strong contacts with Middle Eastern zoo professionals and because of his historic leadership in getting food, water, shelter, veterinary care and other necessities to zoo animals trapped by the wars inAfghanistanandIraq. The NC Zoological Society, the 501(c)3, non-profit organization that manages charitable donations made to the North Carolina Zoo, will accept and distribute donations made to assist the Tripoli Zoo Animal Welfare effort. Donations to this fund will be restricted to projects that provide exclusively for the medical, nutritional, health, safety and welfare needs of animals living in the Tripoli Zoo.


If you have a few spare dollars or pounds, however small, I’m sure the keepers and animals supported by the  Tripoli Zoo Animal Welfare effort would welcome them.


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One Response to “Zoos in war zones – an ongoing problem, and how to support the Tripoli Zoo appeal”

  1. Philip Costa Says:

    I feel this is one of the most important humanitarian issues we face today along with factory farming. The thought of innocent sentient creatures being confined day after day in squalid conditions with the constant barrage of noise from a war in the background is sickening. This scenario encompasses some of the most vile states of being ; war, zoos or jails, starvation, loneliness, abandonment and death. It makes me ashamed to be human, thankfully there are good people that try and mitigate and stop this situation.
    Thank you for shedding light on the subject.
    P. Costa


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