not-so-'happy' the monkey

What it’s like to be the only animal left in a war-ravaged Syrian zoo

Syria’s five-year-old civil war has caused half the country’s population of 11 million to seek refuge elsewhere. Up to 400,000 people have been killed. And in a small zoo in war-torn Aleppo, only one animal remains.

As reported by Agence France-Presse (AFP), before war broke out in 2011, the 22-year-old baboon was a beloved resident of Sabil park in the western part of the city. But in the years since, as violence has laid waste to the area, the zoo has become mired in the conflict between the government and the opposition fighters.

All this has dramatically impacted the life of Saeed the baboon, who’s name means “happy” in Arabic.

“He’s not as happy as he was before the war. He used to be cheerful and happy but now he seems old, and he’s sad because he doesn’t get visitors like before,” said Abdullah al-Jaghal, his 52-year-old keeper.

“Whenever Saeed hears the sounds of shelling or gunfire, he gets scared and tries to climb to the highest point in the cage,” said Jaghal. “He’s afraid of loud noises and when he gets scared, it takes him a long time to calm down again.”

According to AFP, there are small pits from rocket impacts within the park. The “mini zoo” formerly housed other monkeys and peacocks, all of which are now dead.

One visitor to the park said his family has been coming for years to watch Saeed do “acrobatics.”

“But with the war, he’s gotten sick, and his wife died. After that he started to isolate himself and stopped interacting with visitors,” said 35-year-old Bassam Primo.

In a short video about Saeed, who has recently had more visitors thanks to the delicate ceasefire in the region negotiated by Russia and the United States, one woman compares his situation to her family’s.

“There were times when we had no food or water, we were besieged, it was the same for Saeed,” she says. “The situation was very tiring in Aleppo. When the mortars are falling on the park, we worried for Saeed, for his situation and what he will become.

 

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