Growling and snarling, the seven-month old cub glared at the few Iraqis who braved the sweltering July heat to visit the 2,000-acre park that was ravaged during the conflict.

"She's just a bit nervous, she's not used to so many people," the zoo's interim administrator, Lawrence Anthony, said as he stroked Keena's paws.

"The lions, like all the animals, were half-starved when we found them and rattled by the bombs and bullets, but now they're starting to settle down."

Baghdad's interim US governor Ted Morse urged Iraqis to protect the facility, which now bristles with American troops and Iraqi security men.

"This park is for families, this park is for friends and it is especially for children," he told a crowd of applauding Iraqi zoo workers and visitors at the opening ceremony. "Let's make this a protected park and a learning park for all."

Lions versus Saddam

Once the largest in the Middle East, the Baghdad Zoo boasted 450 animals from all over the world.

Now, there are just 80 left. Many were killed by the US bombing, or carried off by looters.

Lions are more scary,  now that
Saddam's gone, said an Iraqi

"Three months ago, when we first got here, the zoo was an absolute mess, it was a war zone," said Anthony, trustee of South Africa's Thula Thula Private Game Reserve.

"There were tanks between the cages and lots of unexploded ordnance. The change has been unbelievable."

Funding from wildlife organisations such as the American Zoo Association and the International Fund for Animal Welfare has helped rebuild the zoo.

Many animals were brought in recently from private menageries in Baghdad, including several lions that belonged to Uday, the son of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Emad Abbas and his two-year-old son Ali were among the first visitors to stroll in. The former Iraqi soldier said it looked better than it had in years.

"Ali wanted to see the animals," he said. "We haven't been able to enter this park for many months, but now it looks good. Saddam deprived us of so much."

But was Ali was more fearful of Saddam or the lions behind bars? "The lions," he said. "Saddam's gone now."