Nestled between two hills, the Kabul Zoo is a massive oasis of green in a war-torn city that continues to be increasingly compartmentalized into a maze of concrete blast walls and concertina wires. The zoo, once the frontline for Kabul’s bloodiest conflict, has found itself caught between deadly crossfires far too often as the Afghan civil war left most of the historic city in rubble and ruins.
Today, however, you are more likely to find idyllic young men sprawled on its lawn taking in the afternoon sun, children huddled around a merry-go-round set up in what used to be the elephant’s enclosure, and families huddled in awe and amazement around the cage of a lonely Chinese pig — believed to be the only one in the whole of Afghanistan. And if you look closely enough, you will even spot quite a few young couples, many of whom find an unusual refugee for romance among the sparse wildlife Afghanistan has to boast of.
The zoo and its tenants have a most unlikely story to tell. “What remained after years of battle was a crumbling enclosure, a few monkeys, two vultures, and one lion named Marjan, who was blinded with a hand grenade by an angry mujahideen,” says Aziz Gul Saqib, the director of the Kabul Zoo, who employees largely credit for rebuilding the zoo back to its semblance, if not former glory. “In 2001, we started with nothing. There were no systems or procedures for us to follow; we created our own systems,” he says.
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