Two of Saddam Hussein's leopards stare out glumly from a cage surrounded by netting on the grounds of the presidential palace in the heart of Baghdad.
Barely able to rise when visitors approach, the animals look paralysed by bitter hunger and the blazing heat as they lie stricken in the
Their legs tremble and they need several tries to stand upright. They advance slowly, almost dragging themselves toward the bars of the cage, their eyes vacant.
In a distant corner of the enclosure, a lion, lioness and three cubs huddle together, looking exhausted and parched.
The entire family has been robbed of strength and the cubs curl up close to their mother. The stench is overwhelming.
"There is also a brown bear but he's not out today," says Second Lieutenant Karl Hoempler of the HHC, 4-64 Armour Battalion, whose unit is closest to the palace zoo.
"No one dares to enter because we don't know how to treat these animals. The veterinary unit isn't here and we don't know how to feed them.
"We've been giving them some rations or whatever we can find," he said, showing the devoured pouches.
The portions are desperately insufficient as an adult lion should eat an average of eight kg of meat each day.
When Saddam still reigned here at the palace, each consumed the meat of two donkeys per day. A donkey cost four dollars, a monthly salary in Iraq, but still cheaper than beef.