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Sunday, 13 January, 2002, 18:49 GMT
Help arrives for Kabul's war-weary lion
Marjan the lion
A grenade blast robbed Marjan of his sight
Marcus George

After years of misery, Marjan, the war-weary lion of Kabul zoo is looking forward to a brighter future.

A veterinary delegation sent by the London-based World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) is assessing the condition of the 48-year-old lion, injured by a grenade in 1995, and that of its few remaining fellow inhabitants.


We're going to do everything possible for Marjan - he's become the symbol of suffering of the people of this country

John Walsh
WSPA
The two-man team will establish a programme to stabilise the health and well-being of the animals and, in the long-term, assist in the reconstruction of the zoo.

One of WSPA's priorities is to tend to the zoo's bear, which has suffered from a infected wound on its snout since it was cut by an angry Taleban fighter whom it scratched.

WSPA's international projects director, John Walsh, told the BBC it may need some kind of surgery or a skin graft. It will also be transferred to an open pen to prevent it from banging its nose between the bars of its caged home.

Kid at Kabul zoo
Afghan children often tease the animals
"We're setting up a veterinary medical programme for the zoo to get veterinary supplies, nutritious food, vitamin and mineral supplements to get the animals all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed again.

"We're going to do everything possible for Marjan. He's become the symbol of suffering of the people of this country and they love him.

"He's greatly deteriorated since 1995. You can see the atrophy in his legs, his muscles are gone. But I don't believe Marjan is suffering.

"He's getting all the vitamins, minerals and meat that he needs. It'll take a bit of time before you'll see any recovery in the animal.

Revenge

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 cutting through his handsome face.

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.

John Walsh, WSPA programme director
WSPA's John Walsh is assessing the condition of the animals
The lion casually eyed the trespasser for several minutes but his mood changed when the visitor stroked his playmate lioness.

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

The lion lay motionless against the far wall of his home when I first 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 yawned his wounds were only too apparent.

The grenade had resulted in lasting damage to the beast, blowing out his teeth, destroying his sense of smell and his vision.

"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."

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

Taleban times

The animals 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."

But several metric tons of veterinary supplies are due to arrive in Kabul in the coming days and more than $500,000 has been raised for the renovation of the zoo.

When I returned to meet the vets, Marjan lay despondently in his cold cement shelter as the morning rain poured down.

The kind words of the zoo keeper did little to soothe his misery.

But at least the Lion of Kabul now faces a future of heated shelter, soft blankets and regular food.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jonathan Charles in Kabul
"Without foreign aid the 39 animals would face certain death"
See also:

06 Dec 01 | South Asia
Animal victims of Afghan conflict
02 Dec 01 | South Asia
Kabul's new lease of life?
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