When the Iraq war began, conservationist Lawrence Anthony could think of only one thing: the fate of the Baghdad Zoo, caught in the crossfire at the heart of the city. 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, Anthony 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.
©2007 Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence (P)2015 Tantor
"A wartime story with a joyful ending." (Kirkus)
A trilogy. Say it in three. Done.
This is a heartwarming, inspiring, and informative account. Sometimes depressing, maddening, and sad. It's also interesting and thought provoking. Set in Baghdad in 2003, this "true" story is told in first-person perspective by Lawrence Anthony, conservationist (with Graham Spence editing). Lawrence Anthony comes across as knowledgable but not arrogant. He seems a likable guy.
Anthony recounts the restoration of the bombed and looted Baghdad Zoo and its remaining animals, located in Al Zawra Park. Through his perspective, we see that this hard-won success was achieved through collaboration. Helpers included local Iraqis, a few Kuwaiti veterinarians, several South African conservationists (especially Lawrence Anthony), the military coalition (especially Captain Sumner), and reps from several international organizations like Care For The Wild, Wild Aide, and IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare).
Kudos to all these heroes! And especially to those first few responders, working without pay (at first) to save the dehydrated and starved animals. In the intense heat, these Iraqi and Kuwaiti helpers — along with Lawrence himself — carried endless buckets of water from the canal to the cages. I wish I could buy them all a cold one!
As with the author's previous memoir, The Elephant Whisperer, this book was superbly narrated by Simon Vance. He's amazing. I loved Whisperer, and also enjoyed this book (but not quite as much). The author and editor take some topical digressions that could have been shortened. They also sporadically jump back in time when the author reflects on something.
It was sometimes hard to keep track of time, but I think Lawrence Anthony stayed in Baghdad working (without pay) for about four months. When he returned home to South Africa, the animals were recovering from months of dehydration, starvation, illness and injury, and reconstruction engineers had rebuilt the bombed and looted zoo, giving it back to the Iraqis and the City of Baghdad, along with Saddam Hussein's prized Arabians.
This kept my interest! At several points, my friend and I would stop the tape and discuss various decisions made by Lawrence Anthony, or by the military, or by other parties. We didn't always agree with their decisions, and sometimes they seemed unprepared, or reckless, or just plain under-equipped to take on these tasks (especially rescuing the abandoned lions, camels, and bears still locked up at Uday Hussein's palace menagerie). But those challenges made for good story.
Much as I cared about the plight of the long-suffering animals, I also cared about how the author portrayed life in post-war Baghdad, with looters and shooters, robbers and bombers, starvation-level poverty and intense fear...
Yet with the slightest hope for peace. Nothing idealized here. Anthony is pragmatic.
I learned a little about the politics behind the rebuilding of Baghdad. The rebels and loyalists. How the military dealt with members of the Ba'ath party. The local fear that Ba'athists would punish anyone who collaborated with Americans.
This narrative put those televised Shock and Awe accounts into a more meaningful context. I gained a personal perspective on the war and its aftermath, and on the horrible reign of Saddam Hussein and his sons, Uday and Qusay. Ugh.
Having followed this memoir, I now want to visit Al Zawra Park, home of the Baghdad Zoo. I want to see the animals I read about, like the dogs who protected the lion cubs during the war, and the terribly abused brown bears, old blind Saedia, Wounded Ass (healing nicely), and Last Man Standing.
I also want to read Captain William Sumner's account, Saving the Baghdad Zoo: A True Story of Hope and Heroes (written for older kids, with color photos).
Yes I would consider another book by this author and reader. Lawrence Anthony did good work. He was an extraordinary man who followed his values despite the most difficult circumstances. He risked his own life repeatedly in order to do what was important to him. He made a positive difference in this world. Not many of us can say that.
I had given little thought about how zoos in a war zone would be impacted. This was a great educational piece. The book overall was good, but slow in places. I often found myself a bit bored and tuning out. There was too much time spent describing logistical details and not enough spent on the personalities of the rescued and recovering animals. I could have done without donkeys (almost daily) being killed with axes for food. It served no purpose to the overall story, and left a lasting image in my mind.
My favorite scene was when the ostriches, after living in extremely closed quarters in the zoo, experienced freedom for the first time (by escaping), and were racing down the war torn streets of Bagdad with Iraqi civilians (animal care takers) running behind them, holding on for dear life; as armed American soldiers stood beside tanks unable to believe their eyes, as the ostriches ran towards them.
It inspired me to pay closer attention, and to become more involved with local rescue organizations in my area.
I knew many Iraqi civilians were like people all over the world- trying to enjoy their lives, earn a living, raise their children, and so forth. I did not fully realize the impact war had on their lives. Of course I knew it had to be bad, but I gave it little thought I am ashamed to say. I had no idea how bad it must have been for them... Like the animals in the zoo, they were collateral damage.
SciFi/Fantasy and Classics to History, Adventure and Memoirs to Social Commentary—I love and listen to it all!
I've been seeing this book on Amazon for eons and have been waiting faithfully for an audio version, until Ta-Dah! Here it is! And this audiobook is well worth the wait. It's not quite The Elephant Whisperer, the only flaw being, really, some slight repetition of stories we already heard from earlier books, but this is a really wonderful stand alone book.
The narrative starts at the early part of the war when chaos and looters abound, when Iraq's infrastructure has completely collapsed. Lawrence Anthony, who is driven to help, really has his hands full, and it's amazing how tenacious he and the Iraqi (and Kuwaiti) workers are in trying to keep the handful of surviving zoo animals alive.
It's touching and inspiring, that in a land being torn apart by violence and war, people come together: soldiers, journalists, international volunteers--all to help, all to do what they can, whether offering MREs, to, well, I won't spoil it...
And once again, Simon Vance's narration is brilliant. Who knew he could do so many accents, one right after another?
People may find this book offensive, considering how things have turned out/are turning out in Iraq: the continuing violence, the heartache and tragedy. They might think: Why is all this being done for animals and not humans?
I'd like to offer that there are many, many groups, international and otherwise, and there are governments who are dedicated to working on the human issues. But who is looking out for the least of God's creatures? Those who don't have a say in how they are treated? And may I offer: Can't we alleviate some suffering somewhere?
More than an inspiring account of Lawrence Anthony's quest to save the severely shell-shocked, traumatized and starving animals trapped In the Baghdad zoo in America's second war on Saddam Hussein's Iraq, this book reveals the profound respect of one man for the world and all its inhabitants. It is a call to arms for those who dream of a better world - not just for people, but for all the creatures, great and small, with which we share this planet
I would recommend reading in this order:
The Last Rhinos
All are amazing books. Lawrence Anthony is a very inspiring individual.
Peter Pan is my hero, my dog is the love of my life, and I hug trees.
This book is incredible. It's filled with adventure, animals, hope, love, happiness, and everything an animal lover or environmentalist could want. I want to be Lawrence Anthony when I grow up.
What does it take for each of us to draw a line in the sand? Anthony speaks to the challenge and to the dual nature of each of us as humans, and our relationship with others, animal and human.
Tangential, eclectic, avid listener... favorite book is the one currently in ear.
I stumbled onto "The Elephant Whisperer," Lawrence Anthony's first book on an Audible special... and loved it. Snatched this up the instant I knew it was available and couldn't put it down. Although not quite as well written as "The Elephant Whisperer," this stand alone book follows Lawrence's experiences holding the Baghdad Zoo together with string and "whatever it takes." Baghdad during the early days post occupation by coalition troops was a dangerous place... with shooting, looting and unexploded ordinance all around. The zoo had been at the center of the fight and was devastated. The stories he shares made me laugh, cringe and applaud his determination, as he fought to get a permit to enter, was the first civilian to do so and then began by hauling water. There wouldn't have been an animal alive without his intervention.
Lawrence is a conservationist who created the Thula Thula game reserve in South Africa. Simon Vance did a terrific job with the narration. Great read.
I am enamored with Lawrence Anthony! He is a true hero and I'm so glad to have had the privileged to hear his story. I will be reading his other books next! Simon Vance is a master narrator and I will listen to anything he reads - bravo!
Darker than his amazingly excellent Elephant Whisperer, but with a few light hearted and many heartwarming moments.
Very even-handed except for a few times where his outrage on behalf of the animals takes over appropriately. The even-handedness results in some great droll humor from some of the understatements.
An important story with a call to action at the end. Don't miss this one if you care about animals or the planet.
Report Inappropriate Content
If you find this review inappropriate and think it should be removed from our site, let us know. This report will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.