One of the many stories that go untold in conflict zones is the fate of zoos and their animals. There are concerns for the animals’ safety as well as for humans if predatory animals escape. In this episode, we explore just a few examples of efforts to safeguard zoos during war.

World War II

The Ueno Zoo in Tokyo and the London Zoo had contrasting experiences during and after the WWII bombing campaigns. Ueno zookeepers were forced to euthanize many animals to prevent escapes during bombing raids. After the war, the zoo suffered from food scarcity and many animals starved to death. The London Zoo also euthanized many predatory animals before it was hit by multiple air raids. Amazingly, no animals were killed in the raids, and the London Zoo prospered after the war.

Middle East Conflicts

The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq nearly destroyed the Baghdad Zoo. The shock and awe U.S. air campaign was followed by excessive zoo looting, and the total number of zoo animals decreased from 650 to 30. However, Iraq refurbished the zoo with the help of wildlife conservationist Lawrence Anthony as well as U.S. soldiers. It remains open today with over 1,000 animals.

In contrast, the 2008-2009 Gaza War between Israel and Palestine caused so much damage to the Gaza Zoo that it was eventually shut down, the remaining animals transferred elsewhere.

Yemen Civil War

Zookeepers in Yemen are using social media to fund their war-torn zoo.  Taiz, a city in southern Yemen, is caught in the crosshairs of the Yemen civil war. A blockade precludes resources like food from entering into the city, resulting in desperate conditions not only for the human population but also for the zoo’s animals. However, Taiz zookeepers and a philanthropist from Sweden have raised over $100,000 USD in an online initiative to help feed the animals. Online funding initiatives will continue to play an important role helping zoos in conflict zones.

Dig Deeper

Take a look at some of our favorite sites that we came across while researching this topic:

About the Author
John is a graduate student in International Affairs at The George Washington University and serves as the Director of Public Relations for Matters of State. Originally from Central Texas, John earned a B.A. in linguistics from the University of Texas at Austin. He lived in South Korea for nearly three years, teaching English on Jeju Island before studying Korean in Seoul. John’s academic and professional interests are international security and East Asian affairs.