Progress at the Kabul Zoo
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2003:
KABUL, Afghanistan–“The bear Donatella’s nose is looking
much better,” Whipsnade Wild Animal Park senior curator Nick Lindsay
reported to Kabul Zoo relief effort coordinator David M. Jones on
December 20, 2002.
That is not the latest information ANIMAL PEOPLE has from the
Kabul Zoo by far, nor the most important in terms of the future of
Afghan animal welfare, but it answers the question most asked about
the war-torn zoo and the resident animals, who became familiar to TV
viewers worldwide during the military campaign that ousted the former
Taliban government of Afghanistan in December 2001, then dropped out
of sight after the fighting mostly ended and most of the visiting
news media returned to the U.S. and Europe.
Marjan the lion, who survived 20 years of nearby combat and
deprivation, died in January 2002, but Donatella, the Asiatic
brown bear with the pitifully inflamed and infected nose from
frequent torture by stick-wielding Taliban and militia visitors, now
has two smaller bears for company. All three bears have newly
re-excavated dens, into which they can retreat to avoid visitors,
and within which they may hibernate for part of the winter.
“The main focus was to prepare for the winter,” Lindsay said
of his December visit to Kabul. “We hired a contractor to run
electricity to all of the dens and stables that needed it, and to
install heaters and lights. This will not be ideal,” Lindsay
acknowledged, noting the local technical limitations, “but it
should be okay barring an extreme winter.”
Heated indoor aviary space was prepared for the birds, bed
boards or next boxes were installed for all animals as appropriate to
their species. Straw was providing as bedding.
“This was well-received by the animals, which helped to
reinforce these ideas with the staff,” Lindsay noted.
“Slides and cage doors were fixed or installed, as
required,” Lindsay continued, “so that all of the animals can be
shut indoors in cold weather. This will also allow the staff to work
safely,” when they must enter the outdoor cages.
Among other animal welfare improvements, Lindsay said,
“Platforms were built for the lions, so that they can see out of
their enclosure, and were used extremely well, as was a new
platform for the bears.”
Lindsay hopes to soon “remove the small old and damaged
cages, and replace them with big, new, more natural enclosures to
match the gazelle and lion areas.”
In addition, Lindsay and Jones are working with the zoo
staff to develop a plan for transitioning toward operational
self-sufficiency. The zoo attracted 210,000 paying visitors between
April and December 2002, along with 1,500 nonpaying visits from
school groups. The volume of traffic should be enough, Lindsay and
Jones believe, to cover the necessities of maintaining the animals
and paying the staff. Outside help would continue to be essential in
rebuilding the zoo facilities.
Jones, who is also director of the North Carolina Zoo in
Asheville and board president of the London-based Brooke Hospital for
Animals, has come under criticism from some quarters for carefully
husbanding the funds collected for Kabul Zoo relief, but has
explained to ANIMAL PEOPLE the necessity he perceives of avoiding any
loss of resources to waste and corruption, and of encouraging the
zoo to learn to operate on a sound and accountable economic footing.
If properly managed, Jones says, the Kabul Zoo can become a
central example of how to rebuild an Afghanistan that works. If
managed as strictly a charity case, it will continue to be a charity
case, knowing no other way to operate.
The Mayhew mission
Lindsay concluded his report on progress at the Kabul Zoo
with brief but effusive praise of the work and management skills of
Mayhew Animal Home site representative Mohammed Ashraf, DVM. The
Mayhew Animal Home joined the Brooke Hospital for Animals, North
Carolina Zoo, European Zoo Association, and World Society for the
Protection of Animals early in the international effort to assist the
Kabul Zoo, and is the only animal welfare group with fulltime staff
Founded in 1886 “for the benefit of the lost and starving
dogs and cats of London,” the Mayhew Animal Home grew to serve an
ethnically diverse part of the city in which 85 languages other than
English are commonly spoken, vice chair James Hogan told ANIMAL
“Our involvement in Afghanistan came about,” Hogan explained
in March 2002, “because of a personal connection we have with the
country: a member of our veterinary team, Abdul Jalil Mohammadzai,
DVM, is a graduate of Kabul University. He is advising us, and
through his contacts and colleagues in Kabul we have been ideally
placed to assist with such things as organizing a reliable food
supply for the zoo animals and establishing links with the city
“After discussions with Dr. Jalil, his colleagues in Kabul,
and the Kabul city administration,” Hogan added, “it was agreed
that the best longterm contribution we could make would be to
establish a clinic in Kabul to provide veterinary care for the zoo
animals and a basic veterinary service for animals belonging to the
These continue to be the major part of the Mayhew mission in Kabul.
Outreach veterinary help is also provided by a United Nations Food
and Agriculture Organization rabies vaccination team, a World Health
Organization leishmaniasis control team, and the U.S. Army 476th
Civil Affairs Battalion, stationed at Bagram Air Base, whose vets
mostly treat livestock.
Mike Eckel of Associated Press joined five members of the
Army vet team on a December mission to Tadokhiel village, where they
examined and treated about 50 animals. At other villages, Eckel
said, they have seen 600 animals.
The UN/FAO team hopes to vaccinate as many as 150,000 dogs.
Dogs suspected of being rabid bite about 400 Afghans per month,
according to the WHO estimate.
WHO is seeking $1.2 million worth of drugs and
insecticide-treated bed nets to fight the sand fleas who carry
leishmaniasis. About 200,000 people in Kabul and 70,000 in Herat,
Kandahar, and Mazar-I-Sharif suffer from the disfiguring disease,
according to WHO leishmaniasis expert Philippe Desjeux. The spread
of the disease is often blamed on dogs, who also suffer from it,
but infection from bedding is the most common mode of transmission.
The Mayhew Animal Home veterinary project is the only one
treating all animals for all treatable conditions.
The Mayhew Animal Home is now building a clinic for the Kabul
University veterinary program, scheduled for completion in early
“We would like to establish a training facility at the clinic,
enabling young graduate vets to gain vital practical experience,”
Hogan said. “When sufficient stability has been restored to
Afghanistan and the people are able to resume normal life, access to
vet care will surely be an important consideration in helping to
develop the rural economy.”
“Afghanistan remains a very difficult, volatile and often
dangerous environment in which to operate,” understated Mayhew Animal
Home animal care manager Helen Betts in a web site resume of the
The Taliban forbade as distractions from prayer the
traditional Afghan pastimes of cockfighting, dogfighting, and
buzkashi, a horseback game in which the object is to drag a headless
calf or goat into a scoring circle, but all three were revived
almost as soon as the Taliban fell. Televised buzkashi caught the
fancy of viewers in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, so on January 28 the Afghan
charge d’affaires in Dubai, Rashid D. Mohammedi, announced plans to
bring 24 trained horses and riders to Dubai for a buzkashi
The Dubai event will use a fake carcass made from cloth and
plastic, Mohammedi told Nissar Hoath of Gulf News.
This may reflect an April 2002 controversy over the karakul
hat favored by Afghan chief administrator Hamid Karzai. Designer Tom
Ford of the Gucci leather empire called Karzai “the most chic man in
the world.” The hat was also praised by Italian furrier Silvia
Venturini Fendi. Sales of karakul hats reportedly surged.
But that gave People for Animals founder Maneka Gandhi of
India the chance to educate the world via Associated Press and Agence
France-Presse about the origin of karakul.
“Karakul wool is made by beating a pregnant ewe until she
aborts,” and usually dies, Mrs. Gandhi explained. “The aborted
lamb has very curly tight hair.” The hat is made from the hide of
Former Indian prime minister Vishwanath Pratep Singh provided
backup testimony. Singh acknowledged that he had worn a karakul hat
himself until he found out how it was made. “When I was told,”
Singh said, “I switched over to synthetic and have worn synthetic
hats ever since.”
PETA meanwhile ensured that more fur would be worn in
Afghanistan, but less in the U.S., by shipping 850 fur coats
donated by Americans who no longer wear fur to Kabul via the Michigan
charity Life for Relief in Development.
Though the Taliban prevented dogfighting, it and Al Qaida
were not kind to animals, as ANIMAL PEOPLE pointed out as early as
November 1996, as the Taliban regime was just beginning. Dogs were
especially often victimized, including in demonstrations of weapons
and the use of poison gas.
Convicted Al Qaida explosives smuggler Ahmed Ressam, 34,
described such incidents during a July 2001 Manhattan federal court
hearing. Confirmation came in August 2002, after CNN correspondent
Nic Robertson obtained a collection of 251 Al Qaida videos from a
remote location in Afghaistan that Osama bin Laden had reputedly used
as a hideout. CNN broadcast clips of three dogs being gassed.
Incidents witnessed of both deliberate and thoughtless casual
cruelty to animals have often disturbed U.S. and British troops and
news media stationed in Afghanistan. Some found ways to set a better
Malcolm Garcia of the Kansas City Star and Peter Bosch of the Miami
Herald rescued a white puppy they found being used as bait for
fighting dogs. Named Maggot, the puppy found a home in Berlin.
British Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant Graeme Smith and
his deputy, Sergeant Mick Hart, both of the 216th Signals Squadron,
rescued an abused and abandoned dog they named Tiger. Treated by
Australian veterinarian Jamie Darling, 35, who was in Kabul for
WSPA, Tiger caught the notice of Daily Telegraph editor Charles
Moore, and through Moore found a home in Britain.
Countless soldiers fed and befriended street dogs.
Perhaps this will help to transform Afghan attitudes toward
animals. At the very least it will mean some dogs are less hungry
and have known a kind hand.