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Wednesday, 21 November, 2001, 10:28 GMT
Kabul's one-eyed lion soldiers on
Marjan, the one-eyed lion of Kabul zoo, AP
Marjan the lion had one eye blinded by a grenade
Marjan, the one-eyed lion of Kabul zoo, has been one of the luckier inmates of the war-ravaged menagerie that was once a showcase of nearly 100 international species.

He is almost as old as I am. The poor beast has no mate and he is ageing fast

Sheragha Omar
zoo director
Over the years, many animals have died of starvation, and many of those who survived were themselves eaten when food was short at the height of the country's relentless civil war.

The zoo's wild boar is still alive - spared due to an Islamic ban on eating pork.

But Hathi the elephant did not make it. A rocket launched during the civil war by one of the rival factions landed in the zoo, and the blast killed the 25-year-old female.

The Taleban, who took Kabul by storm in 1996, were initially sceptical that a zoo was compatible with their fundamentalist brand of Islam.

But after some deliberation, the theological department of Kabul University confirmed that the prophet Mohammad had himself kept house pets, and that animals could be educational.

Blasted lion

Zoo director Sheragha Omar, who has not been paid in four months, hopes that the international attention focused on Afghanistan could bring about a reversal of fortunes for the few sorry beasts that remain in his care.

Zoo director Sheragha Omar, AP
Zoo director Sheragha Omar has not been paid in four months
He wants a dignified end for the 45-year-old Marjan, whom he says is still "traumatised from his brush with death".

In the early 1990s, an Afghan fighter apparently showing off in front of his friends jumped into Marjan's cage. The lion promptly bit his arm off and the man died later in hospital.

Seeking revenge, the dead man's friend returned to the zoo and threw a grenade at the lion, which tore into his legs and blew off a side of his muzzle.

Marjan was blinded in the left eye.

"He is almost as old as I am. The poor beast has no mate and he is ageing fast," said Mr Omar.

There is neither the money nor the expertise to treat the blistering open sore on the nose of the Afghan bear in the zoo

The zoo used to be a favourite among bored Taleban soldiers on leave from the frontline that used to be north of Kabul.

The zookeeper says he was powerless to prevent them beating the bear and other animals with sticks and pelting them with snowballs and stones.

Peeking out

Mr Omar is doubtful that the Northern Alliance, which seized Kabul from the Taleban last week, have either the interest or the resources to fund the zoo.

Afghans visiting Kabul zoo, AP
Afghans have been enjoying their local zoo
He currently relies on the good will of the local butcher, who provides meat for Marjan's daily feeding, and the veterinary knowledge of teachers and students at Kabul University.

Since the Taleban fell from power in the capital, Afghans are daring to show more of an interest in their local menagerie.

"People are no longer afraid to come out," said Mr Omar. "We even have women now who open their burqa masks for a better look."

Links to more South Asia stories are at the foot of the page.

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