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Afghan Zoo Under Fire From Critics

October 4, 2002

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ A leading animal protection group said Friday that animals sent by China to an Afghan zoo were in danger of suffering and ``possibly even death″ because of conditions in the zoo.

Zookeepers dismissed the claim, saying they had cared for animals in the past despite their nation’s problems.

After years of war and neglect that severely reduced its number of occupants, Kabul’s zoo on Wednesday received two lions, two bears, two deer, two pigs and a wolf from Beijing’s Badaling Safari World.

``The arrival of more animals is the last thing that Kabul Zoo needs right now as it is continuing to struggle to look after the few animals that remain there,″ the London-based World Society for the Protection of Animals said in a statement. ``The zoo is ... simply not ready to accept any new animals.″

The statement said adequate stocks of veterinary medicines, vitamins and mineral supplements were not available, and that Kabul lacked qualified veterinarians.

``The animals that have just arrived from China are at grave risk of suffering and possibly even death,″ the statement said.

Kabul Zoo director Sher Agha Omar conceded the zoo was struggling but said most of its animals had been cared for even in the worst of times.

Omar pointed to the long life of the zoo’s most-famous inhabitant, a one-eyed lion named Marjan, who died in January of old age. He was 27, Omar said.

During the 1992-1996 civil war, the zoo was on the front lines of fierce fighting between rival factions and most buildings inside it were damaged.

``During the war, fighters were all over this place. But even then the municipality made sure food was brought to feed the animals,″ he said.

In fact, Kabul residents say that during the war the zookeeper scrounged meat and food from them.

Omar said a number of plans had been devised to ensure the animals receive the care they require.

China’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Sun Yuxi, said Chinese experts would teach Afghan zookeepers how to care for the animals. Sun also said the Chinese government was ready to fly in veterinarians should any medical emergency occur.

Food _ raw beef for lions; rice, carrots and fruit for bears _ would be provided by the municipality or another London-based animal society called Animal Home, Omar said.

But the World Society for the Protection of Animals said the zoo needed ``extensive rebuilding.″ It said the newly arrived creatures ``will be forced to live in the squalor of ramshackle, outdated cages of concrete and iron bars, which allows neither freedom of movement nor protection from extremes in weather.″

Business was up after word got out that the new animals had arrived. On Thursday, 1,250 visitors came to the zoo _ 1,000 more than usual, Omar said. Before noon on Friday, more than 1,500 people had paid the five-cent entrance fee.

In a grassy mound surrounded by rocky walls and bars, hundreds of people gazed at one of the new arrivals, a female lion, trying to relax in a corner. Its male counterpart had retreated out of view into a concrete chamber. Nearby, two huge brown bears paced in a small cage.

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