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|Kabuls lion, still king of the beasts|
Marjan the lion, who was injured several years ago by a hand grenade, sits in his quarters at the Kabul Zoo. The zoo's director hasn't been paid in four months, but he gets meat for the animal on credit from a local butcher.
But future uncertain for animals at Kabul Zoo
By Kevin Sites
KABUL, Afghanistan, Nov. 23 Though his roar is more of a yawn these days, it was not so long ago when this lion, Marjan, used to be the king of Kabuls urban jungle. A mujahedeen fighter who had survived combat with the Soviet Red Army was not so lucky when he jumped into the lions den to tease the beast. Marjan promptly ate him.
THE NEXT DAY, says zookeeper Sheragha Omar, A family member threw a hand grenade into the cage. When marjan pounced on it thinking it was food, he lost one eye and 95 percent of his sight in the other.
But Marjan is not the only casualty in Afghanistans unending wars and civil strife.
During the vicious factional power fights from 1992 to 1995, a sadistic soldier killed the Zoos elephant with a rocket-propelled grenade. Other animals were turned into meals for hungry fighters.
An Afghan bear paces in his cage. His snout is red, raw and swollen. Zoo officials say Taliban visitors would tease the bear by holding out food, then smacked him on the nose with sticks when he reached for it.
THE KORANS ANIMALS
In a place that used to have 39 species of animals. Now there are just 17. The only reason it is still open at all is because of zookeeper Omar who like Marjan doesnt give up very easily. When the repressive Taliban regime wanted to shut the zoo down Omar fought back. He went to the faculty of Islamic studies at the University of Kabul.
They wrote down everything in the Koran that referred to animals and the prophet Mohammed, says Omar. I collected them all and presented them to the ministry of justice.
Faced with evidence that the Prophet indeed kept pets, the Taliban allowed Omar to keep the zoo open. Despite the zoos sorry state crumbling infrastructure and malnourished animals attendance is up. And since the Taliban fled the capital, the number of visitors to the zoo has doubled to 200 a day.
Mohammed Rafi, an unemployed 18-year-old, comes here every week to pass the time. He says Marjan, the one-eyed lion, is still his favorite draw.
Its stronger than any other animal in the world, says Rafi. Yes, its the king of animals in the world.
KING OF THE BEASTS
But this king, like the other animals here, still faces an uncertain future.
Theres very little food to feed the animals, the zoos staff of eleven havent been paid since July, and with cold weather approaching theres no money left to prepare the animals cages for winter.
Omar says the Northern Alliance is providing some food and medicine for the zoo, but its not enough. Still, despite the difficulties, he loves Marjan and all the animals too much to give up now. He says he will keep up the fight as long as Marjan does living up to the words posted on a sign outside the zoo, God created animals. People must be good to them.
NBC News producer Kevin Sites is on assignment in Afghanistan.
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January 23, 2002 - We are saddened to say that it has been reported that Marjan has passed away.
Donations marked Kabul Zoo Appeal can go to the Cologne Zoo in Germany, the Federation of Zoos in London, or the North Carolina Zoo Society in the United States. The North Carolina Zoo Society has set up a special webpage with information on how to make a donation.