Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Zoo

Last week I tried to make plans to go to the Kabul Zoo. Zee also wanted to go. It may have been easier to arrange a trip to Mogadishu to walk down the streets naked . Too dangerous. Too many people, too dangerous. Think again.

Apart from the ever-present threat of kidnapping, apparently the zoo is not just for families enjoying the day out, but also a haven for young thugs who are looking for trouble and don't like westerners.

I had to sign a disclaimer saying that I realized I was putting my life (and other lives) at risk. The president of the University had to sign off on it.

We knew that if security wouldn't authorize the trip, we could simply take a taxi. But then, of course, we would have no protection. I think the University tries to accommodate most requests in order to preclude that from happening.

So after jumping through the requisite hoops, we were assigned two escorts (not just one), and told that if anyone attacked us, the escorts would throw us to the ground to protect us. I didn't fancy that.

As it turned out we went on a Saturday, not on Friday, the holiday here. There wasn't much of a crowd and other than being stared at (which happens all the time), it was calm and I think we all had a good time - I did, anyway.

Here's the story of Marjan, the lion, and why I had to go to the zoo.

Marjan was born in 1976 and was donated to the Kabul Zoo in 1978 by the zoo in Cologne, Germany.

Marjan survived years of conflict and ill-treatment in Afghanistan and became something of a symbol of survival against the odds. In 1993 a Taliban fighter, perhaps in a misguided effort to prove his manhood, climbed into Marjan's cage and proceeded to pet Chucha, Marjan's mate. Apparently that didn't sit well with Marjan and he mauled the young man to death. In retaliation the man's brother tossed a grenade into the cage, blinding Marjan and leaving him permanently disabled. But he survived.

And here's part of the BBC story of January 26, 2002:

Lion of Kabul roars his last

Animal welfare teams came too late for Marjan.The 25 year-old beast who was half-blind, lame and almost toothless died of old age only weeks after an international animal rescue mission arrived to help him.

Teams from the World Society for the Protection of Animals took food and medical aid for Marjan and the few other animals have survived at the run-down zoo. They also installed heating and lighting in Marjan's indoor quarters and provided a ramp to help him get in and out. The society said conditions at the zoo had been truly awful. But it paid tribute to zoo staff who had remained (during the troubles) to care for the animals, despite not being paid for several months and being short of food themselves. A poster with pictures of Marjan, displayed at the zoo.

What met us at the entrance. Marjan and friend.The numbered ticket. 100 Afs is about $2. This is a special rate for foreigners; Afghans pay less.

The fountain at the entrance, but not working.

Peacocks but not interested in showing off.

A nice large and wooded area for the ibex (?).
An ostrich that really wanted OUT. He/she kept pecking at the mesh inside the wire.

Working at it!

See the holes. Escape is imminent.

The sign about the Pallas' cat - a cat indigenous to Afghanistan.

This is Zee's shot. It wouldn't pose for me; cats can be quite snooty.

These doves/pigeons had feathered feet. Odd.

A marmot - hanging out.

Closed down when we were there.

The elephant house. The elephant didn't make it through the bad times.

Two bored baboons.

A young man that wanted his picture taken. Totally cool!

A hungry-looking wolf. He didn't just want out, he wanted me!



A healthy looking grizzly. He lives with a black bear.

Eagles, but not the American variety.

And vultures.

An admonition, I think, not to feed the animals.

The alligator enclosure, but that's not a real alligator.

And here's Afghanistan's only known pig. It was in quarantine until earlier this year because visitors to the zoo were worried it could spread swine flu. The pig is now back in its large shrub-filled enclosure which it shares with two goats.

The pig stares out from his concrete hut and wallows around in his mud puddle...

and the goats munch on the shrubs. All's right with the world.


  1. Hi
    feel or feed the animals? maybe both!

  2. the story about the lion is the saddest thing i have ever seen. I sobbed!

  3. I thought so, too. I have a picture of Marjan as my 'picture' on Facebook.