- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 20, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan Someone threw a hand grenade at the Kabul Zoo's lion, blinding it with shrapnel so the beast now limps along, bumping into walls in its squalid cage.
Afghans also tortured the Asiatic black bear, peeling the flesh off its nose and exposing a raw, red-and-white scalped patch above its nostrils.
The zoo keeper who fed them during Afghanistan's civil war was later found with his throat slit.
This grim, bomb-scarred prison for animals still attracts visitors who tease the remaining wolves, porcupines, gazelle, monkeys and a handful of other mammals.
The elderly African lion's suffering began when an Afghan soldier mindlessly climbed over the wall and was eaten by the carnivorous feline.
"There are variations of who actually threw the hand grenade was it another military guy who was a friend of the one that was killed or was it a member of his family avenging him?" said John Walsh, international projects director of the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA).
"You couldn't get straight answers from anyone. It's the same as the bear's nose today. They said the Taliban did it with a bayonet. Well, have you ever heard of a Kalashnikov [assault rifle] with a bayonet on it?" he said.
What seems to be the truth, Mr. Walsh told The Washington Times, was that a Scottish pediatrician who was here at the time and the only one with tranquilizer darts did the best he could with sewing up the lion's face.
The lion's jaw would have required major surgery, Mr. Walsh said. "The lion has really atrophied. His muscles are really weak because he doesn't get enough exercise."
Mr. Walsh, a Boston-based animal protectionist, is part of an international team trying to upgrade conditions at the zoo and treat some of the inmates. Zoos in the United States and Europe have raised over $400,000 for the construction of the zoo, he said.
Mr. Walsh said the international team plans to make the lion exercise by luring it with different foods such as fried chicken or cooked beef. The team is also planning to place an oil burner to warm the lion's cement house through Kabul's occasionally snowy winter.
"Everybody says he's 46" in human years, but Mr. Walsh said it was impossible for lions to live that long. "I was here in 1995 and he was 17, so that would make him 23 today."
In any other zoo, the lion, who is blind in both eyes, would have been put down "years and years ago," Mr. Walsh said. "He also looks really sore in the hind end, almost arthritic."
The WSPA projects director was also concerned about the hand-sized patch of flesh torn off the bear's nose. "That bear is in a lot of pain," he said.
The team sent pictures of the bear to specialists at Boston's Angell Memorial Animal Hospital, the world's largest. Surgeons there suggested a graft, but to perform a skin graft, the bear would have to wear a cone-shaped collar so it would not scratch its nose while healing.
Mr. Walsh, meanwhile, applied antibiotic ointment, by drawing it close with the lure of an apple and squeezing the tube onto its nose. He also tried mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on an eagle hawk, which now lies dead and sealed in a clear plastic bag.

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