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Sunday, August 01, 2004

Help came too late for Marjan, symbol of Afghani resistance.
Help came too late for Marjan, symbol of Afghani resistance to tyranny.

One of the rarely reported-on aspects of war are the consequences to both wild and captive populations of animals. At the height of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the resulting Gulf War, some of the most distressing stories came out of the Kuwait Zoo, where Iraqi soldiers tossed smaller animals to big cats and other predators for sport, and used monkeys for target practice. The genocide between rival tribes in the country of Rwanda has pushed the Mountain Gorilla to the brink of extinction.

Now Uday Hussain al Tikriti's pet lions, who had suffered for years from maltreatment, are in the process of being relocated to the Baghdad National Zoo from the compound that used to be Uday's private retreat. The Baghdad National Zoo in Iraq, as well as the Kabul Zoo in Afghanistan, were symbols of the desperate, war-torn state of those two countries. Now American Zoos and animal welfare agencies around the world are pitching in to help get those Zoos up and running again with more modern facilities to care for their charges.

Marjan, a lion given as a gift to the Afghani people by West Germany 25 years ago, became blind, enfeebled and died before he could get the help he needed. However, his survival, first under the Soviet invasion, then the Taliban regime made Marjan a symbol of hope for Afghanis. Perhaps Uday's lions could serve as a similar symbol of hope and endurance for the embattled Iraqis.