Kabul Zoo gets two new lions from China and is stoned by British critics
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2002:
BEIJING, KABUL–Two lions and a brown bear, a wolf, and a
fallow deer arrived on October 2 at the Kabul Zoo in Kabul,
Afghanistan, after four days en route from the Beijing Badaling
Safari World in China.
The animals, including the three-year-old lions Zhuang
Zhuang and Canny, were donated by the China Wildlife Conservation
Association in memory of Marjan, the lion half-blinded by a 1993
grenade attack whose endurance through more than 20 years of warfare
made him a national symbol.
Marjan died in January 2002, soon after the fall of the
“We need new animals desperately,” Kabul Zoo director Sher
Agha Omar told Associated Press. The Chinese “promised us some
birds too. Maybe they will be on the next flight,” Omar hoped.
“The restocking of the Kabul Zoo should never take place.
Has someone forgotten that this is still a war zone?” countered
Graham Garen of the Cefn-yr-Erw rare breeds farm and primate
sanctuary in South Wales, U.K.
Garen visited the Kabul Zoo in April 2002, apparently in
connection with work identified on the Cefn-yr-Erw web site as
“engineer for an armored vehicle manufacturer, building, but
delivering and demonstrating these specialized vehicles in most of
the world’s trouble spots.”
Married in 1994 to Jan Rigby, who converted the former
Cefn-yr-Erw family farm into the present sanctuary in 1988, Garen
was highly critical of most of what he saw at the Kabul Zoo.
“The people who have been so kind as to donate money to help
the Kabul Zoo should be asking why these animals are being left in
Afghanistan,” Garen opined. “No matter how much money is given to
Kabul Zoo and how much training is given, the basics of animal abuse
will always be present.”
Garen said that he saw “very little food available, and
signs supposedly erected by one of the caring societies telling the
locals not to tease the animals were not in evidence. The keeper was
showing the locals how the monkeys reacted when poked with a long
At another monkey cage, Garen said, “the keeper amused the
locals by shooting small stones at the monkeys, who in turn thought
after stones hit them and fell to the floor that the stones were
food, and would chase them. Children were throwing stones at Samboo
the black bear,” whose nose and mouth were still badly infected from
wounds inflicted by visitors during the Taliban years.
“The fox,” Garen said, “had no fur from the back of his
neck to the tip of his tail,” with skin “like a piece of raw meat”
The World Society for the Protection of Animals echoed Garen.
“More animals is the last thing the Kabul Zoo needs right now. The
animals who have just arrived from China are at grave risk of
suffering and possibly death,” a WSPA press release said.
WSPA further objected that the newly arrived animals “will be
forced to live in a squalor of ramshackle, outdated cages of
concrete and iron bars, which allow neither freedom of movement nor
protection from extreme weather.” The Kabul Zoo is, however, more
spacious and of more modern design than the London Zoo and many other
major zoos in Europe.
In addition, nine months after WSPA international projects
director John Walsh led a veterinary team to the Kabul Zoo and
delivered veterinary supplies, all paid for with funds raised by the
American Zoo Association and European Zoo Association, WSPA charged
that the Kabul Zoo still lacks experienced care.
Kabul Zoo director Sher Agha Omar told Associated Press that
little donated aid had actually reached the zoo, said the zoo had
seen nothing of a gift from U.S. school children that was known to
have reached Afghan-istan, and added, “What we really need is money
for our staff. They haven’t been paid in months,” though the WSPA
relief mission did pay them back wages in January, according to
relief effort coordinator David M. Jones.
“The Kabul Zoo is not a great place for animals,” Jones
readily acknowledged to ANIMAL PEOPLE. As director of the North
Carolina Zoo in Greensboro, N.C., and board chair of the
London-based Brooke Hospital for Animals, Jones raised more than
$350,000 in aid for the Kabul Zoo last fall, and arranged for Walsh
and team to visit, just in time to help ease Marjon’s last days.
“We wouldn’t be in Kabul if it was a great zoo,” Jones
continued. “But even if we could remove all the animals to ‘a better
place,’ which the Afghan government would not let us do, there is
nothing to stop them from refilling the zoo again. Even now,” Jones
said, “new animals arrive every week from various parts of the
country,” some of them sent precisely because they are found sick or
injured. The zoo has fulfilled a dual role ever since it was founded
in 1971 as the only wildlife rehabilitation center in Afghan-istan,
and most of the current residents arrived as rehabilitation cases.
The zoo has also functioned as a quasi-humane society,
hosting horse care clinics and sheltering feral cats in some of the
“I am pretty sure that the fox Garen mentioned is a new
arrival, and that is probably why he looked bad,” Jones said. “We
did manage to slow down the Chinese in giving more animals,” as the
lions were originally offered on July 12. “But Afghanistan is a
sovereign country, and one problem right now is the increasing
bureaucracy and their wish to make their own decisions. We have to
work patiently through that,” Jones explained.
“If we accept that there will be a zoo and animals in it,”
Jones added, “then we must try to make it the best that it can be.
That means reinforcing its role as a conservation education center in
a country that God knows needs it, and making it a pleasant park,
which it once was, for mothers and children. There is nothing else
like it in Kabul. That why we are trying to get it back under
supervision of the Univer-sity of Kabul, which will promote this
role, and why we do not want to fritter away money on short-term
solutions that will not resolve the real issues. We have about
$330,000 remaining in the fund,” Jones said, “but it would be very
easy to spend all of it sending in armies of experts to solve
immediate problems, while getting nowhere for the longterm future.”
“Nothing is going to happen quickly,” Jones allowed. “The
animals are well-fed, despite what Garen says. The Mayhew Animal
Home in London have a permanent staff member in Kabul now, with whom
we work, who buys and pays for the food every day. Water and
electricity have been restored, and some of the larger animals have
been moved to the enclosures that are repairable. The Koln Zoo,”
which originally built the Kabul Zoo, “has had a team there since
June, pursuing reconstruction.
“The Germans started to repair the old monkey island there to
give the monkeys more room,” Jones noted, “but found unexploded
mines. The island was used as a dumping site for dud ordinance. The
island is high on the list for repair once it has been cleared,”
“I think the most important point to get across,” Jones
emphasized, “is that we cannot stop the Kabul Zoo from keeping
animals. We do have a chance to make it a place which, over time,
might spark some interest in animal care, wildlife and wild places.
When it was founded, before all the troubles, it did serve that
“We should keep in mind,” Jones added, “that hundreds of
little zoos scattered around central and southern Asia would give
anything for this sort of help. The same issues apply. Getting rid
of them all would satisfy our sensibilities, but since this is not
practical, let us work to make them places where, as a new
generation becomes better educated, at least some of the youngsters
will take a real interest in animals and run with it.”