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Kabul Zoo: A Pathetic Sight - 2002-10-26


Afghanistan's many years of war and civil strife took a staggering toll of human life. But other creatures were affected as well, especially the animals at the Zoo in Kabul.

It is a unseasonably balmy October day at the Kabul Zoo. But the zoo is a pathetic sight.

The scruffy makeshift cages and enclosures house a dispiriting array of creatures: a couple of lions hiding out of sight two bears, a couple of porcupines, some deer, monkeys, pigs, wolves, and an array of birds. Most of the animals seem listless. At one cage, a child pokes a monkey with a stick. At the bear cage, some people laughingly throw plastic into the cage, which the bears try to eat.

The Kabul Zoo was on the front lines during the Afghan civil war that raged in the early to mid 1990s. Before the fighting, there were about 90 different animals at the zoo. Now there are 21. Animals were killed or escaped during factional clashes. Zookeeper Sher Agha Omar says the zoo and its inhabitants were caught in the crossfire. "As the fighting was going on, a lot of animals at the zoo died," said Sher Agha Omar. "And as you went to the zoo and you looked around, a lot of the cages and a lot of the buildings were destroyed."

Today the zoo struggles to survive. Food and veterinary help are contributed, much of it coming from abroad. Mr. Omar says the animals are well cared for, but that more assistance is needed.

Earlier this month, China donated several new animals, two lions, some wolves, bears, pigs, and deer. Zookeepers are trying to build new and better cages to replace the ramshackle ones to protect the animals from the bitter Afghan winter that will be here soon.

Mr. Omar says some nations have indicated they would like to contribute more animals to the zoo, but that the cages and enclosures do not meet international standards for animal care. "A lot of countries are interested in donating animals," he said. " But because we don't have a proper place for keeping these animals, they are unwilling to help us. So our major problem is with the cages and the places where the animals are kept. And it's all because of the destruction of the fighting."

The animals may endure a harsh winter and some pretty grim conditions. But at least they are no longer suffering from humankind's folly of war.

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