An animal rescue organization rushed to help save two remaining animals in the Mosul zoo after several dozen of them died of starvation and war amid intense fighting between Iraqi forces and Islamic State militants in recent weeks.
Officials from the Kurdistan Organization of Animal Rights Protection passed through at least five security checkpoints with needed food and water Thursday, escorted by Iraqi forces. They arrived to find a weak lion and a lethargic brown bear in cages at the Murur Park Zoo in eastern Mosul.
"We have provided 300 kilograms of meat for the lion and 100 kilograms of fruits and vegetables for the bear," Sulaiman Saeed, the president of the Kurdish group, told VOA. "The food will last them for two weeks and we will return again the next time with more food."
The zoo, a popular attaction in one of the greenest areas of the city, was once home to two lions, one bear and dozens of other animals.
Before IS occupied Mosul in June 2014, people traveled from the northern Iraq region to see the animals. After taking control of the city, IS used the zoo to raise money.
But as a U.S.-backed offensive to drive IS from the area intensified in recent weeks, the owner of the zoo fled and abandoned the animals, neighbors told VOA. Most of the animals died from starvation or were victims of war, neighbors said.
"A few animals were able to escape through a crumbling wall attached to their cages and were hit by a rocket," Omar Al-Hiyali, a neighbor of the zoo, told VOA. "But most of them died from thirst and hunger. Only a lion and a bear have survived."
In recent days, neighbors banded together to help feed the lion and bear.
"They had no food, no water," Najat Alshoka, another neighbor, told VOA. The neighbors, who suffered themselves from food shortages amid the fighting, scavenged to feed the animals.
"Someone who was selling pet birds had to sacrifice some of them to feed the lion," Al-Hiyali said. "Others offered their own bread or collected tree leaves for the bear."
Appeal for aid
Mosul Eye, a social media group on Facebook and Twitter run by activists who report on IS activity in Mosul, appealed to the world for help for the animals.
The activists contacted the Iraqi government and several international animal protection organizations. The Kurdish rescue organization said it received $800 from the Austrian-based Robin Hood Animal Welfare group, said Sulaiman, the group's leader.
After the lion and bear get stronger, Sulaiman said, they will be transferred to the regional capital in Irbil. But the journey will not be easy, he said.
"These are big wild animals that need special equipment and trucks for transportation," he said. "It's not that simple to move them out of Mosul. This is a city with no government and order. No corner is safe here."
For the time being, activists from Mosul Eye wrote in a Facebook post, "the lion and the bear are safe now. They eat and live in peace."