/ 19 April 2003

SA wildlife experts barred from Iraq by US army

An international team of zoologists and veterinarians led by Lawrence Anthony of the Royal Zulu National Park arrived in Kuwait on Friday but were prevented from entering Iraq.

The team left South Africa on Wednesday night on an emergency mission to assess the welfare of zoo animals in a number of Iraqi zoos.

Team leader Anthony said he was negotiating with the American military in Kuwait and hoped to join a military convoy headed for Baghdad next week.

Once in Baghdad, the team will assess zoo conditions, and begin importing food and other necessities.

Anthony said: ”The situation in Iraq is not yet stable, there is still fighting in some of the large cities, including Baghdad, and until the situation has calmed down, absolutely no humanitarian or other aid organisations are being allowed through.”

The mission has no official status with the United States military in Iraq but has the tacit support of a number of American military officials in the region.

Thanking South African diplomats in Kuwait for their support, Anthony said: ”We understand and expected some difficulty getting into Iraq but what we’re really pleased about, is the personal support we’ve received from our diplomats over here. The level of concern over the welfare of the zoo animals has been very gratifying,” he said.

”The mission is currently funded entirely by the members of the team in their private capacities and a corporate sponsor but, following the initial assessment, funds will be raised internationally to save the animals from starvation, and to counteract the infections already reported in some of the animals in the Iraqi National Zoo.” – Sapa