Amir Khalil is not an ordinary veterinarian if he could be defined as a conflict veterinarian. Just 24 hours ago he returned from Iraq, where he traveled with four members of the NGO Four Paws International with the particular mission of rescuing the last two surviving animals from the Mosul zoo. Khalil recounts the journey in lands recently extirpated to ISIS to move the lion Simba and the bear Lula to the New Hope animal rehabilitation center in Amman, Jordan.
“Malnourished, surrounded by excrement and corpses, only Lula and Simba remained among 42 animals. The rest perished under bombs, hunger or devoured, “says Khalil in a conversation via Skype from Vienna. Two months ago, the 52-year-old Egyptian veterinarian managed to set foot in the Mosul zoo.
He did it after 60 days of intense fighting to expel ISIS. At the gates of the zoo, as in churches and museums, the faces of the lion and the bear had been blurred by the passage of jihadists who consider all iconic haram representation.
But even in times of war, the bureaucracy can play tricks. “We stayed 10 days in military control without water, food or electricity.” Khalil’s team had to first obtain permission from the zoo owner, who was wounded by the jihadists and convalesced in a hospital in Erbil.
From there they had to wait for another Iraqi security permit to give carte blanche to the passing of the hairy prisoners. “At first the soldiers made fun of us and made selfies”, Remember today funny. But on the second day, a soldier left his weapon on the ground and handed an apple to the bear.
And on the third day another uniformed man appeared smiling with two chickens in his hand: “I confiscated them from a truck in the control. They are for Simba! ” Even the children of the families fleeing from Mosul swarmed around the cages to smile for the first time in a long time.
However, the officers did not understand Khalil’s effort. “We are in the middle of a war and very busy fighting Daesh! Kill these animals! “A General shouted, handing him two bullets in his hand. “Humanity in a person is not divisible. He who has humanity has it for both humans and animals, “Khalil responds to criticism.
For this veterinarian, the human species is the most destructive of all. Know well the destruction signed by man in conflicts where he has evacuated all kinds of animals. The first was Kosovo in 1998, where “young and naive” agreed to travel to save some bears. Since then, he has gone through numerous wars loaded with his stethoscope and a handful of anesthetic darts.
Thus he managed to save in 2003 in Iraq the nine lions that Odai, the feared son of Saddam Hussein, kept for personal recreation in his palace. Or keep alive the animals of the zoo in Tripoli, stationed between trenches and 500 meters from the palace of the Libyan leader Muamar al Gaddafi.
In Gaza they have carried out up to five missions to evacuate through three tunnels under the Rafah border crossing with Egypt to three lions and to lose two elephants that never managed to get out of the underground alive. The Egyptian has shown to have large doses of diplomacy, negotiating with armies, politicians and even secret services with successful operations as when Hamas militants agreed to evacuate five monkeys to Israeli territory.
The satisfaction that Khalil receives in preserving the life of these animals is marred by the sadness of those who testify of human suffering. “I’m a veterinarian, I can only cure animals. We take defenseless animals out of cages they can not flee from and wars they can not understand to set them free in open fields. But humans are evacuated to new cages, which are shaped like tents in refugee camps. ”
Khalil’s work is only possible thanks to those animal lovers who, even in war, remove a piece of bread from their mouths to keep them alive. “Lula and Simba ate from my hand. Only I could do that without running water, “he says on the phone and from Mosul Abu Laith, a car mechanic in his fifties and father of six children.
It was he who during the two months of fighting kept alive the last survivors of the Mosul zoo until the arrival of the veterinarian. With the complicity of the neighbors, he slipped out of the ISIS controls to bring them food and water.
In another country and in another war, it has been Mohamed Alaa, an electrician and the father of two sons, who in the Syrian city of Aleppo and under the bombs kept alive about 200 cats in an improvised animal shelter. Now, Khalil says that his next mission will be to try to help the two bears and tiger survivors of the war in Aleppo zoo.