Friday, August 20, 2010

Babylon's Ark

Book review: Babylon's Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo, Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence

This great read is the story of conservationist Lawrence Anthony's decision to enter Iraq after the US invasion to rescue the Baghdad Zoo. I enjoy a good true story and this one has all the elements - excitement, details of a war zone, animals needing saving and people willing to help. It connected with my childhood dream to either be a vet or a zoo-keeper and held my interest throughout.

Lawrence, a South African, realised that with the outbreak of war in Iraq, the animals in the zoo in central Baghdad would be caught in the crossfire. So, he was the only civilian who entered Iraq at that time and did it to save the animals.
Once Anthony entered Iraq he discovered that hostilities and uncontrolled looting had devastated the zoo and its animals. Working with members of the zoo staff and a few compassionate U.S. soldiers, he defended the zoo, bartered for food on war-torn streets, and scoured bombed palaces for desperately needed supplies. Babylon’s Ark chronicles Anthony’s hair-raising efforts to save a pride of Saddam’s lions, close a deplorable black-market zoo, run ostriches through shoot-to-kill checkpoints, and rescue the dictator’s personal herd of thoroughbred Arabian horses. (back cover)
I'm generally not that interested in war stories, but I liked the angle on this one.

As I read it though, it did raise a number of questions in my mind. He is obviously a conservationist, and therefore concerned for animals and the planet. However, there were times when I suspect he cared more for the animals in Iraq than the people of Iraq. It is true they were kept in appalling conditions, but then again, the people of Iraq were also subjected to a tyrant in appalling conditions for years.*

It's a question that I have thought over often. As a teenager, I mostly wanted to be a doctor. However, for a couple of years, I changed my mind and wanted to be a vet. Why? Because I was so disgusted with the evil in the world and the way humans acted that I decided they weren't worth saving. Obviously, God changed my mind as he showed me what Jesus has done and that all people, myself including, are so worth saving that Jesus died for us all.

Despite that and the rant in the final chapter that we have to save the planet, the animals, and become sustainable and responsible humans (all true by the way, it was just a little contrived at the end), which included a plug for his new venture, Earth Organization - it was a great read.

Interesting, enjoyable and a different insight into a war zone.

* He does state once that he was more concerned about human lives (ie the health of the zookeepers before the animals), and that he recognised that the dangers the US soldiers faced daily were more challenging than any he faced at the zoo. Interestingly, he also does not generally support the concept of zoos, preferring animals to be in the wild. Of course, however circumstances dictate that some animals that have always been in zoos need to remain in zoos, as they are unable to be released.


Anonymous said...

Hi Wendy, I have the great privilege of working with Lawrence. I read your review with some interest as you pose a problem that I was also concerned about. Lawrence answer to the animals versus human dilemma was that we cannot handle one to the exclusion of the other. Both problems need to be confronted and solved simultaneously. If we only handle the human issues until they are finished there will be no animals left to deal with. This will shortly be followed by more human problems. You may enjoy Lawrence's second book called 'The Elephant Whisperer', it is a gentler story with no war. Regards Yvette.

Wendy said...

Thanks for your comment Yvette, I appreciate you taking the time. You are right, both problems need to addressed. I may well have a look at the second book.