With a name meaning ‘happy’ in Arabic, Saeed the monkey was the star attraction of a zoo in Aleppo thanks to his cheerful demeanor.
But ever since the Syrian city has been on the frontline of the country’s civil war, visitors have stayed away from the Sabil Park Zoo for fear of being fired at by rebels with rocket and homemade missiles.
And the loneliness of being the last surviving animal in the zoo has taken its toll on 22-year-old hamadryas baboon Saeed, whose keeper says the animal has turned into a shadow of his former self.
Abdullah al Jaghal, who has looked after Saeed for 18 years said: ‘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.
‘Whenever Saeed hears the sounds of shelling or gunfire, he gets scared and tries to climb to the highest point in the cage.
‘He’s afraid of loud noises and when he gets scared, it takes him a long time to calm down again.’
Even in the context of war, Saeed’s enclosure is grim as he lives in a yellow-painted circular cage with nothing inside but a dirt floor sprinkled with remnants of food, including dried scraps of bread.
He walks around it with a chain and a small padlock around his neck, as adults and children watch him with interest.
Bassam Primo, who took his daughter to the zoo to give the monkey juice said: ‘Our families have been coming since childhood to Sabil Park to see Saeed and watch his 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’.
Throughout the violence which has killed over 300,000 people and displacing half of Syria’s population, Mr Primo kept visiting Saeed, often feeding him apples.
But he added: ‘I found him depressed and sad.’
Sabil Park was once a major draw for residents of Aleppo, a former economic powerhouse that has been ravaged by the country’s five-year conflict.
Its mini-zoo included other monkeys and peacocks that are now all dead.
The park bears some scars of the war, including a small pit left by a rocket impact, and the fighting has traumatised Saeed.
However, with the start of a truce negotiated by Russia and the United States, Sabil Park was once again full this week, particularly as the lull coincided with the Muslim Eid al-Adha holidays.
Street vendors hawked goods to families enjoying a chance to walk without fear, while children crowded around Saeed’s cage and called out his name.
Asma Deeb, an English teacher, said she was glad Saeed had survived.
The 36-year-old said: ‘We’ve lived through tough times in Aleppo… and Saeed lived through them with us.
‘I was afraid that he would die of hunger or be hit by shrapnel from a shell.’
But she winced at the children around his cage trying to provoke a reaction, and said she was saddened by his confined habitat.
Ms Deeb added: ‘He has brought us happiness for 20 years… but his place is not here, his place is in his homeland in Africa, and I wish he’d be able to go back there so he could be happy.’