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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Kabul Zoo

Air Date: Week of

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Years of military fighting in Afghanistan have not been kind to animals at the Kabul Zoo. Host Steve Curwood talks with John Walsh of the World Society for the Protection of Animals about his experiences and plans there.


CURWOOD: And you're listening to NPR's Living on Earth. The story of Marjon, the one-eyed zoo lion of Kabul that's been in the news since the Taliban fled the city, is a sad reminder that people aren't the only victims of the decades-old conflict in Afghanistan. John Walsh is director of international projects for the World Society for the Protection of Animals. His first trip to the Kabul Zoo was back in 1995.

WALSH: The zoo, when I got there, had sustained--about 94 percent of it was totally damaged. There were about 30 animals still alive. Mortar rounds had gone right into the cages, destroyed them. There was a tank stationed at the zoo and as it rumbled around to fire from different positions it also destroyed many of the cages. The lion that's been shown in the press now, Marjon, had a mate at that time, and it was only few months earlier that its face had been destroyed and its jaw seriously damaged by a hand grenade that had been thrown in by a Taliban solider.

CURWOOD: Why was a grenade thrown at the lion?

WALSH: One of the soldiers, to show how brave he was, went into the cage. Now, the zoo lion keeper used to go in and stay with them and pat them. So the soldiers were amazed that this guy was always in with the two adult lions, and, for one reason or another, to show his bravery, he went in, and the lion promptly killed him. There's two stories. One says it was a member of his family that went in and rolled a hand grenade to the lion; others say it was a companion in the same military unit as the solider who was killed.

CURWOOD: Now, when do you think that the World Society for the Protection of Animals, WSPA, as you call it, your organization, will be able to send over your own relief team? And what are some of the first things you'll do when you first hit the ground?

WALSH: What we do as soon as we get in is assess: one, can we get good quality food to the animals and good quality water? There is no electricity in the zoo and there hasn't been--or running water-for, well, since '95, when I was there, but it's next to the river and we can put our floating pump out, with a generator. We'll try to contract also to get the best quality food from the marketplace. And one of the most important things, in a situation like Kabul, where there is likely to be civil unrest in the future, we fly in tons of what we call zoo chow, which is dried, prepared food for every kind of zoo animal. That way, the zoo animals will get a well-balanced diet and it isn't something that people would steal for human consumption.

CURWOOD: Depending on their level of desperation, of course.

WALSH: Of course, that's always a factor. But we've done this in other zoos and it's worked effectively.

CURWOOD: How important a role do you think the Kabul zoo could play in helping city life get back to some semblance of normalcy?

WALSH: Well, when I was there in '95, my original goal was to try to convince the municipality that because of the condition of the lion and they're not likely to maintain the animals properly, that we would take them out and move them either to India or Pakistan until conditions stabilized. They said this is the only place that people go for entertainment, especially during the Taliban era, when there was no television, no movie theatres, nothing that they could do. And, regardless if it's a primitive old-type zoo, with the iron bars and concrete, with the animals confined to small spaces, it's all they've got. And the zoo community around the world is trying to help build a new zoo.

CURWOOD: John Walsh is the International Projects Director of the World Society for the Protection of Animals. Thanks for your time today, Mr. Walsh.

WALSH: Thank you



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