According to the Bahrain Gulf Daily News (April 18, 2003) looters have emptied Baghdad zoo of its animals “Monkeys, bears, horses, birds and camels have disappeared, carted off by thieves or simply left to roam the streets after their cages were prised open,” the paper reported. “More than 300 animals are missing–only the lions and tigers remain.” And the big cats are starving.
This news got me thinking about an earlier”shock and awe” campaign.
On February 13-14, 1945, Allied bombers laid siege to the German city of Dresden. With the famous animal trainer, Otto Sailer-Jackson ran the extremely popular Dresden Zoo. As the bombing commenced, Sailer-Jackson was forced to consider the standing Nazi order that if human life was endangered, all carnivores must be shot. However, before he could take the lives of his beloved big cats, a new wave of bombers set the zoo ablaze. The animal trainer recalled the scene:
“The elephants gave spine-chilling screams. Their house was still standing but an explosive bomb of terrific force had landed behind it, lifted the dome of the house, turned it round, and put it back on again… The baby cow elephant was lying in the narrow barrier-moat on her back, her legs up to the sky. She had suffered severe stomach injuries and could not move.”
Three hippopotamuses were drowned when iron debris pinned them to the bottom of their water basin. In the ape house, Sailer-Jackson found a gibbon that, when it reached out to the trainer, had no hands, only stumps. Nearly forty rhesus monkeys escaped to the trees but were dead by the next day from drinking water polluted by the incendiary chemicals. For those animals that made it to the next day, the assault was far from over. A U.S. aircraft pilot came in low, firing at anything he could see was still alive. “In this way,” Sailer-Jackson explained, “our last giraffe met her death. Many stags and others animals which we had managed to save became victims of this hero.”
When a man or woman acts in a particularly repulsive manner, they are commonly and derisively called “an animal.” Like most everything, we humans have it backwards.
MICKEY Z. is the author of The Murdering of My Years: Artists and Activists Making Ends Meet and an editor at Wide Angle. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.