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Thursday, 6 December, 2001, 13:11 GMT
Animal victims of Afghan conflict
Marjan the lion
A grenade blast robbed Marjan of his sight
Marcus George

Marjan is one of the only animals still residing in Kabul zoo. Thick chapters of history have passed before the eyes of the 48-year-old lion, and he has his own story to tell too.

On a fateful day six years ago, the elderly beast tinkered with an object thrown into his pen. Seconds later he lay wounded by a blast which brutally cut through his handsome face.

We don't have the means to maintain the health of our animals here

Shir Aga Omar, zoo keeper
The grenade was a gift of vengeance from a soldier whose brother had been killed by Marjan.

Just days before he had been visited by a fool-hardy Afghan who climbed into his compound.

The lion peacefully eyed the trespasser for several minutes, but his mood changed when the visitor stroked his playmate lionness.

Marjan lashed out at the man and caught him by the neck, injuring his head. The man died from his wounds the same day.

Miserable life

The lion lay motionless against the far wall of his home when I visited him. As if expecting me he had put his remaining handsome features on show, the deformed side of his face hidden away.

But as he let loose a soporific yawn his wounds became visible. The grenade had resulted in lasting damage to the beast, blowing out his teeth, destroying his sense of smell and his vision.

Kabul Zoo
The scars of war are visible all around the zoo

But these are not his only woes. A lack of food has weakened the veteran of Kabul zoo, and his ragged paces as he stumbled across his pen added to the miserable picture of his life.

"We did have two lions, but two years ago Marjan's playmate fell sick and she died," said Shir Aga Omar, the keeper of the zoo.

"We don't have the means to maintain the health of our animals here. Vets come and prescribe pills but that is all they can do."

Animals suffering

This was only too apparent as I looked around the gutted premises and bullet ridden cages.

The only animals which appeared impervious to their misery-ridden surroundings were a pair of two grey wolves which followed me from end to end of their cage.

But opposite an imprisoned bear gloomily strolled around, occasionally reaching up to rattle the side of his cage. The skin on its nose had peeled away where a deep infection had been left untreated.

The animals also suffered under their Taleban rulers. One soldier was bitten by deer when a group of fighters came to the zoo. In anger the fighter let off a round of its Kalashnikov and left the animal dying.

"And our elephant, which was brought from India, was killed during the fighting in this region, the zoo keeper said.

"A very powerful rocket hit the wall of its compound and it burned to the ground, and because of this the elephant was killed."

Human tragedy

The past has not just been miserable for the zoo's animals. Akbar, a former zoo keeper, was brutally killed by an unknown assailant two years ago.

"He was a very kind old man and he dedicated his whole life to this place. He continued his work during the worst fighting in Kabul," said the current zoo keeper.

"Now he is seen as a champion in Afghanistan."

See also:

26 Nov 01 | South Asia
Russia to reopen Kabul embassy
20 Nov 01 | South Asia
Foreign powers move back to Kabul
02 Dec 01 | South Asia
Kabul's new lease of life?
03 Dec 01 | South Asia
Kabul's papers go to press again
22 Nov 01 | South Asia
Fear and freedom in Kabul
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