- Creighton Smith
Farah Murrani of the Baghdad Zoo wonders when she will be able to return home to the animals she loves.
Since October, the zoo's veterinarian and leading advocate has been on the other side of the planet, at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, far removed from the strife in her war-torn homeland. She's in Colorado Springs to study routine animal care, surgical procedures, emergency care and captive breeding programs.
"There's so much to learn here; so much to take back," said Murrani, shown above getting up close and personal with a marmoset.
Baghdad's 15-acre, free-admission zoo is tiny compared to the 70-acre Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Yet it is starting to thrive.
Since the war's start in March of 2003, the zoo -- and the park around it-- has slowly transformed from a rebel battle zone where animals escaped or were trapped in squalid conditions, to a U.S. stronghold where Iraqis come to temporarily forget the turmoil surrounding them.
"It has become a cultural center," Murrani said. "Couples go there to be together."
The Baghdad Zoo's tenuous recovery is the result of hard work by Murrani and a handful of dedicated workers. They nursed animals to health and rebuilt cages and habitat, frequently with the help of U.S. soldiers.
In one photograph that Murrani shows, an abandoned camel at another zoo was near death -- dehydrated and knotted like a pretzel. Since being brought to the Baghdad Zoo, it has fully recovered.
Things haven't been completely smooth. Recently lions that used to belong to Saddam Hussein's son Uday broke free and leapt onto the steel fences that were supposed to contain them. Workers finally corralled the lions with palm leaves.
Murrani's time at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo ends in a few weeks. But fears of a civil war leave her unsure whether she will immediately return to Iraq.
"Now everything is so unsafe and unsettled," she said. "I may go to another zoo in America before I am able to go home."