Babylon & Beyond : Los Angeles Times : IRAQ: A trip to the Baghdad Zoo

Each day, my wife passes the Baghdad Zoo on her way to work. When the weather is nice, crowds of people are there, so a few days ago, she suggested we take our 20-month-old daughter for a visit.
The last time I had visited the zoo was 15 years ago, when my sister, brother and I begged our mother to take us there so we could see a real live lion. When we finally saw the zoo's only lion, we could not believe how skinny it was. We didn't think this was a real lion from Africa. We thought our mother was trying to trick us.
So on a recent afternoon, my wife, our daughter and I went. I was curious to see how it had changed.

The tickets were cheap about 25 cents per person. Like father, like daughter: my toddler asked first to see the lion.
The zoo was not very crowded, because most Iraqis were out of town for a religious celebration. But as with most places in Baghdad, the zoo was full of police searching people for weapons or bombs. They even searched children and women's handbags.
We wandered around, looking at the bears, birds, antelopes, foxes, cheetahs and other creatures. Because it was late in the afternoon, most of the animals were snoozing.

The enclosures were better than I had expected, and many of the animals had company in their cages. But some, such as a little fox, were alone and looked sad.

After about half an hour of wandering, we still had not seen a lion. We asked a zoo worker where we could find one. "Are you kidding?" he said. "We have 22 lions!" Then he pointed toward the lion enclosure, which is not a cage but a large area surrounded by a moat and two fences.
My little girl was thrilled to see them. The zoo worker told us that U.S. forces, which have worked to rehabilitate the zoo, return every week or so and deliver half a ton of meat for the lions. But he said the lions were always hungry, so the zoo keeps a supply of donkeys on hand to serve as extra meat for the big cats.

We had a great trip. I never imagined we would find a nice place to visit just 15 minutes from my house, and we've decided to go back there every once in a while. Although the zoo is not great compared with zoos in other parts of the world, it is much better than it was on my last visit 15 years ago.

Saif Rasheed in Baghdad