Kabul zoo presents ghastly spectacle

AFP, May 24, 2000

KABUL May 23 (AFP) - Kabul zoo, once a frontline in Afghanistan's factional fighting, has become a virtual torture chamber for the animals which survived the strife.

Weak and emaciated, the zoo's monkeys are constantly tormented by visitors who are allowed to shout at the animals and prod them with sticks in full view of guards who show little concern for their plight.

Quizzed about their indifference, the keepers say they have simply grown weary of telling visitors to stop torturing the animals.

A blind lion, a black bear, seven monkeys, 20 rabbits, five foxes, four wolves, two hawks, two falcons, three vultures, nine owls, a deer, a snake and several pigeons make up the zoo's depleted population.

Many animals were killed in fighting before the ruling Taliban routed rival groups from the Afghan capital in 1996.

The Taliban boast they brought security for the ordinary Afghan people. But with electricity, water and veterinary care in short supply, insecurity, hunger and neglect haunt the zoo animals.

"Once bullets and bombs made the zoo a hell for the animals, now they are exposed to constant abuse by visitors," said a guard.

Several animals have died after being beaten or fed narcotics by visitors.

"They recently hit one of the wolves on the head with a stick. It stopped eating first and then died after four days," said a keeper.

"A yellow bear went crazy after it ate stuff thrown into the cage and died."

The guards say Taliban soldiers from the countryside, who throng the zoo at the weekend, are particularly fond of baiting the animals.

"The Taliban say they are having fun and the animals are government property," one said.

Militia soldiers cut tree branches to poke the animals and leap on to their cages to scare them.

"It is impossible to control this situation of wantonness," admitted Mohammad Mehdi, the head of the zoo who has appealed to the authorities to provide armed guards to protect the animals.

One keeper said that the body of the wolf who died had been put on display for several days in an attempt to deter visitors from abusing the animals.

Inside the monkey cages, stones and wood pieces thrown by visitors lie strewn about. One of the monkeys has a visible cut on its bottom, which the keepers said was caused by humans.

The vultures, one of them in its death throes, are forced to drink from a small pond of green water in their filthy, bullet-scarred cage.

Nearby, the lone black bear munches forlornly on an empty cigarette packet.

A lioness died last year due to lack of medicine and several other animals have perished for unexplained reasons, Mehdi said.

Keepers said the zoo's only deer had to be locked indoors every night to prevent its being stolen.

Though the head of the garden said the animals were fed five days a week, the animals seem hungry, snatching whatever food the visitors hold

h t t p : / / w w w . r a w a . o r g