The only surviving animals at an Isis-controlled zoo in Iraq have been rescued as bombs continued to rain down on the surrounding city.
Iraqi forces cleared a timeslot of a few hours to allow rescue workers to enter Mosul's Motazah Al-Morour zoo and prepare a bear, named Lula, and a lion, Simba, for transport out of the war-stricken city, which is suffering its fifth month of a brutal offensive.
Dr Amir Khalil, veterinarian and head of Four Paws, which led the mission said: “We have to act quickly, because Mosul is a dangerous crisis area
“Lula and Simba don’t have any chance of survival unless we can take them out of the zoo and bring them to safety.”
Four Paws said three monkeys, three peacocks, two goats and a pregnant horse were bought to the zoo by desperate private owners after they discovered it was still open, and that those animals remain trapped in the zoo.
“We are trying also to provide help for the other animals, but unfortunately we only have limited capabilities with the short time slot we were given,” Dr Khalil said.
“Large wild animals such as bears and lions, who are kept in desolate cages, can also easily pose a threat to humans.”
Dr Khalil visited the zoo last February to examine the animals and to organise for them to be fed by volunteers, but since the battle to seize Mosul from the extremist group began, some 40 animals have starved to death or been killed by airstrikes.
The animals, were to be brought to Erbil, to the east of Mosul for a stopover, and were eventually be taken to a centre that can take care of them permanently.
Pro-government Iraqi forces launched an offensive to recapture the city – the last major Isis stronghold in the country – in October.
A US-led coalition has supported the assault by carrying out hundreds of air strikes and sending military advisers and special forces officers
More than 286,000 civilians living in the city have fled their homes, but many more have followed the Iraqi government's repeated instructions to in their homes until they are reached by troops.