Photo of Marjan, the Lion of Kabul, after his injury. By Swen Connrad/YumeVisionAgency.
Marjan (1976 – January 25, 2002) was the most famous resident of the rundown Kabul Zoo.
Marjan, which in Pashto means coral, was born in 1976 and was given as a gift to Kabul in 1978 by the Cologne Zoo. He arrived in the Afghan capital and, soon afterwards, a lioness by the name of Chucha joined him. During the USSR occupation, Kabul’s Zoo did experience attack at the hands of the Russian army but compared to the total destruction of the city around it, was still largely spared. However, once the Russians left the country, the civil war that ensued, along with the state of total chaos, enveloped Kabul in the middle of a battlefield. The zoo was shelled on many occasions, even destroying its medical supply facility, leaving zoo personnel unable to help wounded animals.
On March 27 1995, a man who made a bet with his friends sneaked into the lion’s den. The man stroked Chucha, the lioness, who did not react, but Marjan attacked the man and killed him within minutes. The following day, the man’s brother came and threw 3 hand grenades into the lion’s den, seriously injuring Marjan. His eyes had to be removed by MDM and MSF doctors and an Italian photojournalist, thus rendering him blind, deaf, and permanently disabled. Despite several operations, neither Marjan’s eyesight nor his mouth could be saved. He lost all of his teeth, making it impossible for him to eat boned meat. A ramp was also built for him to get back into his den, as he was seen falling a few times while trying to make it back inside. The incident sparked outrage with animal rights activists, local and abroad. The man who threw the grenade was violently attacked a week later, and died of injuries.
Western media quickly picked up the story of the lion. As the news spread, many animal rights organizations, such as the World Society for the Protection of Animals, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and many zoos around the world, lent a helping hand in form of money, medical supplies, as well as personnel that included vets and nurses. Despite overwhelming response, Marjan succumbed to old age and died in January 2002. Both private and public funeral ceremonies were held for the famous lion that was buried in the zoo. On his grave is posted a sentence in Pashto: Here lies Marjan, who was about 23. He was the most famous lion in the world.
In March 2002, China donated a pair of lions to the Kabul Zoo to replace Marjan.