September 3, 2019

Book review: Babylon's Ark

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I clearly remember the 2003 Iraq War. The reason is that I did my military service at the same time as when US invaded Iraq and there was chatter that the Swedish army would extend the length of our military service because of a higher security risk. Now Sweden is far away from Iraq, so perhaps someone thought that Russia would use the opportunity when many US forces were in Iraq to cause trouble in Europe. Luckily, that didn't happen and the invasion of Iraq ended after a few weeks. But people would for many years still be dying in Iraq because not everyone thought the war had ended.

Fast forward a few years to when I was listening to a radio show where Malik Bendjelloul, a Swedish documentary maker, talked about his life. You can read a translation of it in English here. In it, he talked about how he wanted to make a documentary about Lawrence Anthony, a South African who was working with elephants.
"Lawrence had for the past few years tried to help a group of ferocious elephants, elephants that had destroyed surrounding villages and would now be put to death if no one embraced them. So for the past few years, he had for months hanged out with these elephants. And it led to that his entire way of looking at life on our planet had changed. The more time he spent with the elephants, the more he experienced his own inferiority. The human brain may be developed, but all of our other senses are embarrassingly undeveloped: our hearing, our sight, our touch. Researchers have still not understood how, but everything indicates that elephant senses function in a way that sounds like science fiction. For example, one has begun to understand that elephants can communicate with each other over incomprehensible large distances. Maybe over entire continents. Lawrence argued that he occasionally felt this communication. It had felt like the elephants had tried to communicate with him. He didn't want to talk much about it - in part because it was difficult to put it into words, in part because he understood it sounded a bit too much new age fuzzy. I returned to Sweden and thought it existed material for a good story."
But Malik Bendjelloul was also talking about one of Lawrence Anthony's other adventure: when he, just a few days after the 2003 invasion of Iraq had ended, traveled to the capital of Iraq, Baghdad, to help the animals at the zoo. I was really happy when I realized that he had written a book about it before he passed away in 2012. It's called Babylon's Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo, and it's the best book I've read so far this year. There are some clips available on YouTube, but you should also read the book.


Not only did he rescue many of the animals at the Baghdad Zoo, but also other animals across Baghdad. Lawrence Anthony realized that another zoo existed in Baghdad, and it was called Luna Park. It was in terrible shape, so he decided to move the animals to the main Baghdad Zoo:


Saddam Hussein, the former leader of Iraq, collected horses, and they also needed to be rescued. During the war, the horses disappeared because they were very valuable, but Lawrence Anthony and his team managed to find them and bring some of them to the zoo:


So if you want to read a feel-good book that I rated 5/5 stars on Goodreads you should read Babylon's Ark.