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Friday, 23 November, 2001, 12:57 GMT
MPs join battle for Kabul's lion
Marjan the lion
Marjan has survived rockets and grenades
MPs are opening another front in the war in Afghanistan - the battle to rescue Marjan, the one-eyed lion of Kabul zoo.

Former sports minister Tony Banks, a long-time animal welfare campaigner, is leading the Commons charge to protect Marjan and his fellow captives in the Afghan capital.

We want to get food to the animals and pay to the zoo keeper

Jonathan Owen
World Society for the Protection of Animals
The current conflict is only the latest in a series of trials Marjan has endured in the war-torn city.

He has survived a grenade thrown by the friend of a man who died after Marjan bit off his arm, as well as stoning by the Taleban and rocket attacks.

In a Commons motion, Mr Banks pressed the UK Government to despatch urgent veterinary help to Kabul Zoo to "provide welfare and protection to Marjan the lion and other innocent captive creatures caught up in the conflict".

Mr Banks' motion, backed by eight MPs, echoes the concern of the World Society Protection of Animals (WSPA).

WSPA spokesman Jonathan Owen said: "We are ready with aid, it's just a matter of getting to the city.

"Marjan is a real survivor and although the lions are supposed to need about 20 pounds of meat a day, they can live on a lot less if they have to.

Food effort

"We know all about Kabul Zoo and were there before the Taleban took over in 1995. We want to get food to the animals and pay to the zoo keeper."

Mr Owen said the WSPA would co-ordinate its aid effort with other animal help agencies.

Other animals in the war-hit zoo include a wild boar, spared because of an Islamic ban on eating pork.

Phoenix the calf
Phoenix the calf was another political rescue
But Hathi the elephant is one victim of the war, killed by a blast during Afghanistan's civil war.

The Taleban were initially sceptical about whether the zoo was compatible with their brand of Islamic belief.

But eventually the theological department of Kabul University confirmed the prophet Mohammad had himself kept house pets.

Other political animals

Marjan is not the first animal whose welfare has captured the attention of MPs.

Mr Banks last month used a Commons motion to congratulate the chef who released 60-year-old Barney the lobster into the sea because he was "too beautiful to cook".

Earlier this year, the government faced accusations it had relaxed its culling policy in the foot-and-mouth crisis because of the public outcry over Phoenix the Calf.

In 1998, the case of Butch and Sundance, the two escapee Tamworth pigs, was raised in the Commons when Home Office Minister George Howarth likened their predicament to the Conservative Party.

The BBC's Julian Ingle
"There is a new feeling of optimism at Kabul Zoo"
See also:

21 Nov 01 | South Asia
Kabul's one-eyed lion soldiers on
17 Oct 01 | England
Monster returns to the deep
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