How Have I Never Heard of: Amir Khalil

How Have I Never Heard of: Amir Khalil
Yes, that's "veterinarian" of foreign wars.

I was a little nervous to write this post, since I just discovered this person and I only know his story, personality, background, views and opinions very superficially. And he's been involved in quite a bit of high profile international conflict. And he works for an organization funded by celebrities with tattooed buttocks. But then I thought, nah screw that, this is so cool I have to share it! And it is very cool, although this NPR story makes it sound about as cool as the science of how staying motivated helps you achieve goals. No offense, Teri Gross.

In any case, I was researching "hero" veterinarians, and I when I came across his story, I realized he fits the word better than anyone else. I used the think the coolest veterinarians in the world were the couple of us who had been to space. But now I'm pretty sure Dr. Amir Khalil needs his own action movie starring Carl Weathers.

Just remember, pushing pencils is part of the job, too.

Except he doesn't rappel out of the choppa and into neotropical jungle on "American Interventions". He goes to much hotter (militarily not climatologically) zones on veterinary rescue missions. In fact, armed conflict is a pretty good predictor of where he'll show up next. His job is to rescue zoo animals from war-torn cities. The people he meets there call him the "War Vet".

Funded by Four Paws, International, a media savvy non-profit based in Austria, Dr. Khalil rushes towards combat, hoping to safely evacuate high profile animals. He's operated in Gaza, Syria, Baghdad, Libya, Sudan and other conflict zones in the past 20 years. He's also helped establish animal sanctuaries and conduct animal welfare rescues all over the globe. So yeah, he's a badass.

Years ago, I had come across a graphic novel about the plight of the lions in the Baghdad Zoo, but never heard the story about the veterinarian tasked with treating the animals in the bombed-out facilities. Even my friends who dart 1,000 pound sea lions semi-regularly hadn't mentioned him to me, so it wasn't until just recently that I ever came across his name.

Dr. Amir Khalil studied veterinary medicine at the University of Cairo (Go Hieroglyphs!) and eventually worked his way into the incredible role of directing the Disaster Relief Unit of Four Paws, International. As far as I can tell, his job involves leading a team to "hot" zones, negotiating the operation with the belligerents, and then figuring out how to safely anesthetize and transport whatever large, human-eating carnivores may or may not be roaming the destroyed zoo grounds.

Oh yeah, he speaks six languages (probably knows kung fu, too). He celebrates missions by smoking a cigar, listening to Frank Sinatra, and drinking whiskey. Holy s**t, this guy is an 80's action movie star (except for the Sinatra. On the other hand, maybe a Sinatra-esque jazzy number would be good for "Predator: The Musical". Remind me to get working on that!).

More recent (and poignant) is his work in Gaza. Not too many years ago, he literally negotiated a deal between the leader of Hamas and the Israelis to get nearly 50 animals out of a disintegrating zoo in a Palestinian refugee camp. So he's a badass, and a master of nonviolent communication. What's not to like?

He's done other cool stuff too: rescued bears that are essentially tortured to dance in Bulgaria, anesthetized and transported two lions from an ISIS-bombed zoo in Mosul, and worked with Cher (yes, Cher) in pressuring the Pakistani government to allow the transport of an elephant that hadn't seen one of it's own kind for nearly 20 years. Talk about gunship diplomacy!

Top Buns

If I could turn back time, I would go back to vet school and try harder to become the Marvel superhero War Vet. Dr. Khalil is so cool! There is actually no way I have the cajones to consider doing what he does. I got robbed in Mexico once and I nearly soiled myself.

And say what you will about the anti-utilitarianism ethics and the comments that somebody found racist by the organization that funds him, but I still think he's a badass. I think the whiskey's well deserved, and I hope it's Eagle Rare. But I also hope the Sinatra isn't "My Way" at a karaoke bar in Manila (click the link if you've never heard about "Karaoke Rage"). I don't have strong opinions on the cigar, because I'm a wuss of a man who thinks they're disgusting.

Good luck you you, Dr. Khalil! I hope the next mission doesn't involve an elite rescue unit and a heat-seeking extraterrestrial serial killer in the war-torn country that borders Conta Mana. But if it is, "We Need The Best!"

"Was that a "Predator: The Musical" callback??!! You SET AHHHS AAAHPPPP!!!!!!"
Greg Bishop

Greg Bishop

A veterinarian with unquenchable creative impulses. Unquenchable? Hmmm... creative "tendencies"? Well, it depends on how well I slept last night. Also a writer, illustrator and whatever-elser.