In December 2007, the 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Multi-National Division â€“ Baghdad, began working with the Baghdad zoo and contacts in the United States to foster a partnership that would bring two new tigers to the zoo.
After much communication with different organizations, Lt. Col. Robert Sindler, a veterinarian with Multi National Corps â€“ Iraq and Capt. Jason Felix, the project manager for 2nd BSTB, found the Conservatorsâ€™ Center of North Carolina.
The Conservatorsâ€™ Center is a nonprofit educational wildlife organization that preserves threatened species through responsible captive breeding, helps rescue and place wildlife in need and offers resources for educators and scientists.
The center had two bengal cubs, Hope and Riley, who were taken in after the zoo they lived in closed in 2007.
The Baghdad zoo passed intense scrutiny by the Conservatorsâ€™ Center, which initially expressed concern over the safety and welfare of the tigers. However, they recognized the tigers would be in a safe environment where they would be highly appreciated and bring enjoyment to the people of Iraq. The center decided to donate Hope and Riley to the people of Iraq with the approval of the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife to export the tigers.
After months of work, the tigers arrived in Baghdad, Aug. 4, 2008, and were welcomed by U.S. Army veterinarians and the Soldiers of the 2nd BSTB.
The tigers were unveiled to the public at the Baghdad zoo, Aug. 8, 2008.
Hope and Riley were in playful form as the cameras snapped and Iraqi families walked by, enjoying the sight of Baghdadâ€™s newest residents. They are one more attraction that will bring visitors flocking to the peaceful environment of the zoo, proving once more that security is continually progressing throughout Iraq.
â€œI think the zooâ€™s progress, culminating in todayâ€™s arrival of the two tigers, exemplifies that there is significant good news coming out of Baghdad as life continues to return more to normal here and in many other areas of the country,â€ said Felix, a native of Tucson, Ariz.
Dr. Addel Salman Mousa, the director of the Baghdad zoo, said it means a lot to him and the people of Iraq to receive such a gift.
â€œThis day is a historical day for the Baghdad zoo,â€ said the director. â€œWe are really happy today. We want to bring smiles back to the kids and the public, who faced years of deprivation.â€
As the security situation in Baghdad continues to improve, so does the attendance at the Baghdad zoo. At least 2,000 Iraqis visit the zoo each weekday, with tens of thousands visitors on the weekends.
By 1st Lindsey Travis
2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborn Division