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Tuesday, 26 March, 2002, 15:10 GMT
China's lion gift to Kabul
Kabul-bound lion pair
Canny and Zhuangzhuang could be in Kabul by May
China is giving two lion cubs to Afghanistan to take the place of Marjan - the lion of Kabul - who died in January after surviving years of bloody civil war.


I hope the cubs bring laughter and hope to the Afghan people

Wildlife park head

Chinese Central Television showed the three-year-old male and female African lions, Zhuangzhuang and Canny, in Badaling Wildlife Park near Beijing.

Park manager Yi Feng told the TV he hoped the cubs would arrive in Kabul by early May.

Marjan, Kabul Zoo's former lion
Marjan was much-loved by the people of Kabul

One-eyed Marjan lived through all the years of Afghanistan's recent violent history and for many Afghans he was a symbol of survival and their desire for peace.

In 1995 a vengeful soldier threw a grenade at Marjan after the lion had killed his brother, who had entered the compound.The explosion badly scarred Marjan's noble face.

The ailing Marjan succumbed to illness and old age only days after the arrival of a professional veterinary team began caring for him in January.

Symbol of bravery

Keepers at Badaling Wildlife Park near Beijing chose Zhuangzhuang and Canny from among the 84 lions at the park. Both were hand-fed as new-borns and have no fear of humans.

The cub's Chinese keepers hope the lions will breed in their new home. "It is still too early for love to work its magic, but the zookeepers hope for results when the cubs are older," the TV said.

Mr Yi said now that Afghanistan was being restored he hoped that the two lions would bring the Chinese people's best wishes to them.

The two lions are wating for examinations
The keepers hope the cubs will bring joy to Afghans
"I hope the cubs bring laughter and hope to the Afghan people with their youth and vigour," Mr Yi said.

The TV showed Afghanistan's representative in China, Abdul Basir Hotak, slipping his hands through the bars of the lion enclosure to stroke Zhuangzhuang's mane.

"The Afghan people respect lions as symbols of bravery," he said.

Mr Hotak will visit Kabul Zoo soon to inspect the preparations being made to receive the animals.

Reconstruction

Before they go to Afghanistan to begin their new lives, Zhuangzhuang and Canny must spend a month in quarantine undergoing examinations.

The London-based charity the World Society for Protection of Animals estimated earlier this year that Kabul Zoo had been 94% destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised by zoos in the West for its reconstruction.

The Chinese keepers hope that their cubs will never have to experience the traumas suffered by Marjan.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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Head of Beijing wildlife park
"I hope the cubs bring laughter and hope to the Afghan people"
See also:

27 Jan 02 | South Asia
Afghans saddened by lion's death
09 Jan 02 | South Asia
Vets to rescue Kabul menagerie
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