About the suffering of the seven brown bears in Al Zawraa zoo in Baghdad

  • Written by:

18 /4 /2017 – 11/5 / 2017
Shatha Markus
Translated & reviewed by :
Fadi Hanna & Dr. Salma Toma Hanna
28 / 5 / 2017 – 24 / 6 / 2017
To whom it may concern,

I am writing this letter in regards of the poor living conditions of the seven brown bears in “Al Zawraa” zoo in Baghdad, Iraq, and while doing so, avoiding the blame or holding of responsibility of any organization in Iraq of the situation. I simply hope that this will remind citizens, workers and zoo visitors of the bears suffering and work together to help them to have better living conditions.



Wild and domestic animals usually pay the price for human error such as confining them in zoos, forcing them to live in caged and in unnatural habitats. Humans can be held accountable for their own living conditions. They can go as far as lead war, burn fires, and unjustly point a weapon on his brother human being. Humans are responsible for what happens to him .
However, animals have no place in a human’s’ world, and did not intentionally leave their homes. We are the one who, by force, took the animals away from their natural habitat and constrained them to live between us, in zoos, which are foreign and unadaptable to them. Therefore, animals are continuously suffering because of our human error. As beings with sentiment and empathy, we attempt to understand animals’ suffering, as animals cannot express themselves. Many individuals today work very hard to stand up for such animal rights and allow animals justice and good living conditions.


The Issue of This Topic:

Seven (7) brown bears have been living in the Al Zawraa zoo for the last five years. Their zoo enclosure can be described as a very small dark area that has two sections that lack sun exposure. This space is not enough adequate for proper living, as it needs an additional outer space, which should include a swimming pool. Also, this area does not have good ventilation systems in place. Such dreadful living conditions cause the animals lots of stress, foot sores and other medical problems. It can also lead to increased aggressiveness and fights amongst the bears. This has resulted unfortunately in the death of three bears in this zoo. The four remaining bears are still living in the same unacceptable conditions.
Furthermore, in another section of the same zoo, there are three (3) more bears that live in similarly small spaces that are by no means relatable to their natural habitats.
The total number of bears in both sections is seven bears .




Further Explanations:

In Al Zawraa zoo there are two sections for bears; a major and a minor one. The major section, called “the summer section” is visible to visitors and contains a small area with a swimming pool. This section is occupied by a one old male and two female bears ( please , see the video number 2 in section – Other videos to see – ) .
The minor section is called “the winter section” and it’s an even smaller enclosure (2X3X3 square meter). Three young bears are living in this minor section and are not allowed to leave the area due to the fear that they may climb the fence and escape. In addition, this segregation of bears is to prevent the possible fights with the other bears in the major summer section .

In another remote non-visible section to the visitors of the zoo, there are four rooms where four brown bears live. They do not have any outer space or swimming pools. These bears are 6-8 years old and every two bears share one room (2X3X3 square meter). The two rooms unoccupied by bears are used for isolation during the cleaning time. As a result, the four bears suffer from feet sores and ulcers in addition to eczema and fungal infections. It is possible that these bears can become excessively aggressive due to the small space and high stress level or what is called “stereotype”. This can affect the animals that live in captivity, in bad conditions with lack of medical care. These animals usually display stereotypical movements to some extent, which includes moving their heads right and left as one of the possible symptoms of illness.

What action is required to be taken? There is a dire need to provide an outer space that has grass, trees, a large swimming pool and other aspects resembling their natural habitat along with a minimum enclosure dimension of 40X40 square meters. A high fence for the safety of the bears and visitors can surround these areas.
It is worth mentioning that the required space is already available outside the four confined rooms and would only require the addition of a fence that is 700 meters in length and 6 meters in height. Another safety fence is needed at a 1.5 meters distance from the first one. These infrastructures could cost approximately 25,000 dollars.


What is Stereotypical Behavior in Animals?

It is an abnormal behavior frequently seen in laboratory primates, and is considered an indication of poor psychological well being of animals as it is seen only in animals held in captivity. Attention has been brought to situation in which this behavior develops. As a result of this,
Zoologists have noticed that dolphins continue swimming without rest, tigers continue to move around restlessly, birds fly from one tree to another without stop, and giraffes continuously move their heads up and down, etc.

Symptoms :
As described in the above examples we can note the following as symptoms of lack of wellbeing in captivated animals:
1. An animal moving its head continuously in a circular movement, right and left, up-and-down, walking forward and backwards and repeating these movements in a confused state.
2. Nose flattening
3. Lip smacking and chewing movement
4. Continuous itching
5. Continuous aimless movements/running
6. The animal continuously scratching its surroundings
7. Lip dropping

Naturally brown bears move around in their environment that is thousands of times larger than their specified area in the zoo. An example of this animal’s movement can be described by polar bears that move approximately 3500 km daily.
In captivity, mother bears usually leave their cubs or kill them; while naturally mother bears tend to their cubs for 2 to 3 years. Therefore young cubs in captivity are cared for by humans and usually these little cubs suffer from stress and grow to be unproductive in adult age.

* In the picture below you can see the abnormal head movements due to animal stress

* To learn more about stereotype please watch video number (2) and number (3).


Additional Information on Brown Bears in Nature:

Brown bears are mammals that can be found around the globe, including Europe, Asia, and North America.
Brown bear species include Kamtishatka bear, Aurasi bears, Kodiak bears, Syrian brown bears, and Atlas bears.
The bear’s’ brown fur shade varies from dark red to black to a creamy color. These mammals are big and strong animals.
Brown bears height depends on these factors as well and varies between 1.5 to 2.5 m and can sometimes be as tall as 3 m.
Brown bears can run very fast speeds, up to 56 km/hr.
Its diet entails plants, fish, meat, gazelles, fruit, plant root, honey, seeds, and insects like ants, bees.
Brown Bears have a very strong sense of smell and they can find food very fast in nature.
Hibernation is different for every type of bear, and preparations for hibernation usually starts in autumn as the animals start to store food and fat in their body, causing them to gain lots of weight. Their pulse also start to slow, their temperature decreases and energy level goes down gradually.

In terms of lifespan, Brown bears can live up to 20 to 35 years. Bears do not live in groups as they live alone for the majority of their lives. The cubs stay with their mom for around two years after birth. Brown bears are very strong therefore they don’t have lots of predators. The only major threat they must face is that of human, as they hunt them for their meat and skin.
Skin and meat are sold expensively in Eastern market and it’s increasing in demand.
The other danger to brown bears comes from human destruction of their natural habitat through cutting trees, building roads and destroying their natural food sources. This effect has caused the Brown bear population to decline rapidly.


Suggestions to Resolve the Living Condition Problem of the Seven Bears at Al Zawraa Zoo:

1. Place donation containers in different areas of the zoo to help fund the enclosure adjustments.

2. Increase awareness and education about brown bears so that people would know how to care for these bears and how to deal with them and improve their living situations.
Education can help people learn that animals have psychological needs and they are sharing life with us on planet earth.
For example, by giving monthly lectures in the zoo to educate visitors about bears and other wild and domestic animals can raise awareness and funding as well.

3. Create a Facebook page that is specific for the Al Zawraa zoo or an Internet website that posts announcements about animals’ needs.

4. A temporary solution by the authorities would be to move some of the animals to other zoos inside or outside Iraq to provide more space for every bear.

5. Animals in captivity are experience a high level of boredom and suffer from stress. In their natural environment, they hunt, run and move from one place to another. When animals live in zoos, humans can provide them with food that is hidden in balls, or hide their food in different places so they will look for it and give them something to do and make use of their natural senses and hunting behaviour.

6. I’m asking the animal Society, Veterinarians, and individuals who care for the wellbeing of animals to continue discussion with authorities to take care of these animals and bring an end to their suffering.

7. Arrangement for continuing medical education for veterinarians and zoo employees to learn and update themselves on how to care for these bears.


My Personal Opinion on Zoos:

I understand that the zoo is a place for visitors to form a passion towards animals and learn about them, but it is also important to highlight the need for these animals to live in their natural habitats and in states of wellbeing.
I am against taking animals from their wild environment and forcing them to live in zoos just for the sake of human enjoyment.

With infrastructures already in place, we should use zoos as a place to rehabilitate sick animals but not to enclose healthy ones. Sick animals can be treated in the zoo, retrained to live in nature and then released back to their natural habitat.
Only sick animals or the one with physical abnormalities like amputations, or blindness , ………. etc, who cannot survive in nature, should be kept in zoos to protect them from dying and vulnerability in the wild from predators.
This can also be a place for animals to safely reproduce and increase specie number. Furthermore, this action in itself can help show visitors our responsibility as humans as care takers for the animals on this earth.
I don’t know how people can enjoy seeing animals like prisoners in cages, where they are far from their natural habitats and forced to live in cages.

Last but not least, in April 23, 2017, David Fredericks wrote in a German journal about raising money for the guinea pigs in a zoo in Germany. Their zoo enclosure was not small or unstable but German citizens truly care about these animals and wanted them to live free in a larger space. They rose €16,250 for the project and it will be opening in the near future. They have also announced that they will start another project to raise money for their rabbit exhibition.
And I ask why can’t we do that for the seven brown bears in Baghdad zoo?

We should view the German zoo as a role model and replicate their tactic to raise awareness and funds from visitors who are passionate and caring towards the animals at the Al Zawraa zoo.

I am asking the Animal Society in Baghdad to work and focus on this subject, as this is part of their job in caring for animals and providing them with good living conditions. This will result in a positive response by the visitors of the zoo and ultimately, it is beneficial for the city of Baghdad as it will attract more tourists.



In conclusion, I truly hope authorities will care about the suffering of the seven brown bears in Baghdad.
I would like the Thank everyone who considers this letter and this project.
I greatly appreciate it.


References about stereotype in bears

( 2 )

Al Zawraa bear
(You can see symptoms of stereotype in this animal)

( 3 )

Al Zawraa bear
(Symptoms of stereotype in this animal)

( 4 )

(The bear: video at 3 min and 57 seconds to 4 min and 19 seconds)

( 5 )

Al Zawraa zoo in Baghdad

( 6 )

Husain Asad: Zoo report

( 7 )

The bear in Al Zawraa Zoo in Baghdad

( 8 )

(Bear in Al Zawraa: short video)

( 9 )
Salam Altaie face book (office of parks and trees)


Other videos to see :

Al Zawraa Zoo without animals: report by Yaarub Kahtan/ Dijla channel
In 5/3/2017 we can see bears with two metal fences

( 2 )

28/ 9/ 2015: Al Zawraa Zoo, Baghdad.
Bear in the main section where there is a swimming pool with the two metal fences, and in this video we can see the elderly male with two females.

Sad seen in the zoo of Mousel 7/2/2017.

(Old house called Nineveh Zoo/ Abdul Muhanen Bassel)