Book Review: Babylon’s Ark by Lawrence Anthony

Babylon’s Ark subtitled: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo is the compelling and ultimately heartwarming story of how one man rescued the abandoned animals of the Baghdad zoo in the middle of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The book is an odd and quirky combination of a Tom Clancy thriller and a James Herriot animal care story.

Lawrence Anthony, a South African conservationist, who at the start of Operation: Iraqi Freedom in 2003 realized that no one would be caring for the animals of the Baghdad Zoo. He soon arrived in Kuwait, rented a car and recruited two native speaking zoo keepers from the Kuwait City Zoo and was the first non-reporter civilian to enter the war torn country.

Traveling 500 miles thru a warzone, Anthony found the zoo in appalling condition with only a few animals surviving. Anthony and his two helpers soon set to work. They ‘liberated” equipment from bombed out hotels to care for the animals. They bought donkeys in markets to feed to the carnivores. Anthony soon formed an unlikely alliance with the local American military unit, the US 3rd Infantry Division (Rock of the Marne). Sometimes acting against orders, individual soldiers were soon helping Anthony. Friendly soldiers gave him a weapon to defend the zoo from looters, which he soon had to do. They used their own money to buy herds of sheep and other food for the animals. The remaining zoo staff soon returned to work and more international help arrived as well.

Not satisfied with those successful efforts Anthony and his team were soon rescuing cheetahs, ostriches and other animals from Uday Hussein’s private menagerie. With US Army Captain William Sumner and his soldiers, Anthony and his team also rescued abused and neglected exotic animals from black markets all over the warzone. In one exciting adventure, a military raid lead by Captain Sumner and Captain Gavino Rivas rescued seventeen horses from Saddam Hussein’s famous herd Arabian Horses.

After the fighting eased the US Army deployed engineers to repair and improve the zoo and the surrounding park which reopened to the public in July of 2003. Anthony left the country in September 2003.

If the book has any problem it is Anthony’s writing, which frankly leaves much to be desired. He could have used a good ghost writer or strict editor when completing this book.

This book is a must read for animal lovers ever where.

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