Help arrives for Kabul's war-weary lion

Source: BBC

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. 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.

"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.

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. 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 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."

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.

The Lion of Kabul now faces a future of heated shelter, soft blankets and regular food.

Source: BBC
Dated: 13 Jan 2002
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