- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 27, 2002

LONDON He survived the Soviet invasion, a mujahideen rocket launch, Taliban stoning, American air strikes and a grenade attack that half-blinded him. But Marjan, the one-eyed lion of Kabul Zoo, died peacefully of old age yesterday.
Nearly toothless and lame, Marjan became a symbol of Afghanistan's destruction last year after pictures of him starving in the battered zoo attracted worldwide sympathy. His plight was even raised during Prime Minister Tony Blair's questions in the British House of Commons. The lion's age has been estimated at between 25 and 38 years.
"He had not eaten for a few days, and this morning I discovered him dead in his cage," Sheraq Omar, the zookeeper who had cared for Marjan for the past eight years, said yesterday.
A gift from Germany, Marjan was a veteran of occupations, coups and wars and had survived six weeks of U.S. bombing that helped to oust the Taliban.
After his forlorn state was highlighted by tabloid newspapers, more than $380,000 poured into a fund set up by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) to provide his cage with heating, lighting, a ramp to help his arthritic limbs and a scratchproof mattress.
The organization had wanted to transfer the lion and the few other remaining occupants of the zoo to India and Pakistan, but the authorities in Kabul, who are determined to rebuild their city, refused.
Despite his hardships, Marjan lived to a good age. In captivity, lions often can live for around 25 years; in the wild, they seldom live longer than eight to 10 years. Mr. Omar said he hoped the lion would be replaced, preferably by a breeding pair.
A Taliban fighter once climbed into Marjan's enclosure to prove his bravery, only to be killed and eaten by the then-much more active lion.
The fighter's brother threw a grenade at Marjan in revenge, blinding him and causing his lameness.
All the animals at the zoo were routinely mistreated by soldiers, who beat them with sticks and pelted them with rocks and stones.
The zoo's 11 staff have gone unpaid for months and have been reduced to begging for food for the animals from local market stalls. The WSPA has said, however, that it will pay their salaries and provide better animal husbandry training.

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