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Sunday, 27 January, 2002, 12:43 GMT
Afghans saddened by lion's death
Marjan and his keeper
Animal welfare teams came too late for Marjan
Marcus George

Marjan the lion of Kabul - to many the symbol of Afghanistan's struggle for peace - has died just weeks after the arrival of professional veterinary care, having survived years of civil war and his own war wounds.

The elderly beast had been undergoing a course of treatment and a gentle modification of his diet when his condition weakened. He stopped eating and within four days had taken his last breath.

His death was unexpected to a veterinary delegation from the World Society for the Protection of Animals who arrived three weeks ago in Kabul for the rehabilitation of the city zoo.

Rapid deterioration

His long-term ailments had finally taken their toll. His liver was shutting down, his intestines were bleeding and he was holding liquids, said WSPA world projects manager John Walsh.

"We noticed he had deteriorated on Wednesday. He wasn't eating and we put him on an intravenous drip. By Friday he couldn't walk, and on Saturday we went in to see him and he was dead.

"I cried when I found out. I had been here in 1995. Marjan was old, ailing and brave and that's why people respected him."

News moved fast through Kabul and within hours Afghans had come to pay their respects to the four-legged war veteran which had lived through era after bloody era in Afghanistan's recent history.

Lion's suffering recalled

Three women, their burqas hoisted up over their heads, stood staring into the compound where Marjan used to sit basking in the sun.

They remembered their childhood visits to the zoo and told me the lion had suffered just as the people of Afghanistan.

Kabul zoo
Kabul municipality hopes to reconstruct the battered zoo
On a fateful day six years ago Marjan tinkered with an object thrown into his pen.

Seconds later he lay wounded by a blast which brutally cut 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 foolhardy Afghan who climbed into his compound.

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's emaciated body still lay in his shelter awaiting a decision from the authorities on its final resting place.

It is believed Marjan will be buried within the grounds of the zoo as a lasting testimony to Afghanistan's bloody history and its impact on every lasting institution in the country.

Brighter prospects for bear

As Afghans, journalists and hacks sombrely gathered around Marjan's lair waiting for pictures, on the far side of the zoo the mood was very different.

Kabul zoo's black bear Donatella has a sore nose
A Taleban fighter attacked the bear after it scratched him
Days of misery for the zoo's Asiatic black bear, now named Donatella, have receded as WSPA's treatment pays off.

Donatella had been brutally attacked by a Taleban fighter who cut a flap of skin from her nose after being scratched.

The wound, treated by antibiotics, has started healing without surgery or skin grafts.

But if Donatella still has bad memories of those days little was apparent as she frisked around her small cage playing with a vet who fed her medicine-laced boiled eggs.

Donatella's new abode

For the WSPA, Donatella is vindication of their importance. In the six weeks since I first saw the youthful bear its moody prowling behaviour has been transformed.

"She's nice when she wants to be. She's really adorable," said vet Juan Carlos Morillo. "Some days she tries to bite and scratch me. But today she's just having fun."

Life is also due to get much better for Donatella when she moves into an open compound boasting electricity, heat and, most importantly, trees to climb.

While many rightly bemoan the shift of attention from the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan to the plight of Marjan the lion, for Afghans in Kabul the death of Marjan is another link to the golden years of the past broken forever.

The BBC's Ade Akintonwa
"To the people of Kabul he was the symbol of survival against the odds"
See also:

26 Jan 02 | South Asia
Lion of Kabul roars his last
13 Jan 02 | South Asia
Help arrives for Kabul's war-weary lion
21 Nov 01 | South Asia
Kabul's one-eyed lion soldiers on
06 Dec 01 | South Asia
Animal victims of Afghan conflict
09 Jan 02 | South Asia
Vets to rescue Kabul menagerie
23 Nov 01 | UK Politics
MPs join battle for Kabul's lion
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