Nestled between green hills, the zoo was once home to Marjan, the famous one-eyed lion of Kabul – who survived nearly three decades of war, mujaheddin attacks and several regimes, only to die in his sleep in 2002 as the zoo was finally being restored to a semblance of its former glory.

Except for brief periods when it hosted a couple of older lions, the zoo has not been able to fill the enclosure despite numerous requests to various donor nations over the past decade.

But last month, its director Abdul Aziz Saqib saw reports on social media that some rare white lions had been rescued in Spin Boldak, a town on the border with Pakistan in the war-prone Kandahar province.

“The border police in Kandahar had captured an animal trafficker attempting to smuggle six young white African lions out of the country,” Mr Saqib told The National.

He said the lions – three male and three female – were about two years old.

“They were found hidden under crates of fruits and were being held in deplorable conditions.”

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