Weekends in Kabul are something that we look forward to and look for new places to discover. When work doesn’t take over, we all are looking for something new to do in Kabul, something we haven’t done before.  Walk the Kabul city wall, hike in Istalef, visit Massoud’s shrine in Panjshir, brunch at the Serena. One thing that, unbelievably, I had not done until now was visit the Kabul Zoo, but I am pleased to tell you that has been rectified.

Marjan the one-eyed veteran - Photo by AP (File Photo)

A zoo in Kabul? Yes, imagine. A country that cannot even feed and protect its own people; who knows what state the zoo is in. As we stepped over the animal carcass lying at the entrance to the zoo, I felt a small buzz of excitement reminding me of earlier zoo visits in my childhood. The Kabul zoo has had many stories surrounding it. The one-eyed lion, Marjan, who defiantly lived through the decades of war and near starvation, died from old age after the fall of the Taliban in 2002.  He lost his eye when an Afghan fighter showing off jumped into the lion’s cage, where the lion promptly gobbled him up. The dead man’s brother soon returned and threw a grenade into the murderers’ cage, blinding poor Marjan in one eye.

Marjan the one-eyed veteran - Photo by AP (File Photo)
The lonely lioness - Photo by Sarah-Jean Cunningham

Another classic is the zoo’s single pig. Pigs, considered forbidden in Islam, are a rarity in Afghanistan, and so this is likely to be the only one in the country. Too much excitement for one day! Another pig story is that of the wild boar in the zoo which also remained alive through the devastation of the city. This is said to be because it is not allowed to eat pigs and so its life was spared, unlike the deer and the rabbits.

With all of these legends in mind, I must say we were a tad disappointed about what we saw. Although having thought there would be no lion (Marjan sadly passed away), I was excited to see that a very lonely looking lioness had replaced him. The Afghans stared, as did I, as she paced back and forth contemplating her escape from that concrete prison.

lioness
Spectators at the monkey cage - Photo by Sarah-Jean Cunningham

The monkeys were also somewhat of a spectacle as the Afghans had figured out that if they threw bits of food into the cage the monkey would eat it. Unfortunately this meant that one monkey had been thrown a piece of chewing gum, still in its wrapper! However Afghans are some of the most resourceful people I have ever met, and that seemed to extend to its monkey population as well. The monkey confidently unwrapped the chewing gum and popped it into his mouth and started chewing like a 15-year-old schoolgirl. I was convinced he would start blowing bubbles.

The only pig at the Kabul Zoo - Photo by Sarah-Jean Cunningham

We saved the best for last. The pig. We couldn’t find it for a while, but in our best Farsi possible, we asked ‘khok kojast’. The zookeeper started to laugh, invited us to drink tea and then pointed to a barren-looking pen on the far side. Sure enough there was the pig, quite still and somewhat albino-looking, but alive and well (well, alive at least). It sat alongside was a deformed goat with a fifth leg growing out of its back. At least he had company I suppose.

Unfortunately, I think it was one of the most depressing places I have been to in Kabul. On the way home we were thinking of ways we could help the zoo improve, but I couldn’t help but think we should just let all of the animals free, close the zoo down and wait until Afghanistan can look after its own people.

 

 

Sarah-Jean Cunningham is half-Egyptian, half-British who recently moved to Afghanistan to pursue her passion for development. Trying to understand the country is her newest and most difficult challenge yet! She blogs at: www.sjcunningham.com

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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