How the King of Beasts became a sacrificial victim in a world gone astray
Animals in War
When Animals Are Drafted
War Horses – the Engines of Battle
For Kittens of War, Marines are Heroes
All Creatures Great and Small
When Soldiers Deploy
The 80th Commando
Animal Soldiers Go Hi-Tech
Battle Buddy Now Therapy Donkey
Warrior Dog Gets Stem Cell Therapy
Animals, Conspiracies and ‘The Avengers’
Should We Be Testing Weapons of War on Animals?
Stray Dogs of War Take a Bow
The Most Decorated Dog
The Lion of Afghanistan
From an editorial column by Michael Mountain, March 2002, shortly after U.S. troops first went into Afghanistan.
In every war, there are one or two photographs that come to symbolize the essence of the conflict itself. Think of the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima, or the image of the naked, nine-year-old girl running, terrified, down a street in Vietnam.
In the new war in which we now find ourselves, the moment of the collapse of the Twin Towers has been etched irrevocably into our minds. And now, months later, so too has the photo of Marjan the lion at the Kabul Zoo.
The 25-year-old lion’s history is sad enough in itself. Donated (whatever that means) to the zoo in Afghanistan when he was just a cub, Marjan lived in a small concrete compound, looking on as the Soviets came and went, as local warlords feuded around him, and then as the Taliban took over. He lost one eye and was blinded in the other when, out of sheer spite, someone threw him a grenade and he innocently picked it up and began to play with it.
In the last few weeks, as his photo appeared all over the world, donations have poured in to help him and the few other animals who were still surviving at the zoo. This outreach of kindness was truly heartwarming. (But it was too much, apparently, for a member of Britain’s parliament, who rose in outrage to ask that tired, old question: “How come so much money is being sent to help animals when there are people who need help, too?”)
Throughout the years of horror, Marjan and his fellow animals were looked after by a handful of caring zoo keepers. And now, finally, those good people were able to give him the food and medicine he urgently needed.
A few days later, Marjan passed away. But he must have known, during that last, brief period, that he was not alone in a world of hell. And in his own way, he must have felt the prayers and concern of millions of people who had heard about him from far away and who wanted to help.
What was it about the Lion of Afghanistan that touched such a deep chord in us all?
Perhaps it was that the King of Beasts is such a powerful symbol in our mythological and cultural traditions – from the biblical Lion of Judah to the Lion King of the modern American musical. And while other animals – like sheep and goats – are still being sacrificed on the altars of food, medicine and religion, to see the King of Beasts become the sacrificial victim of humanity’s hatred and folly feels desperately wrong.
Marjan tells us something that, deep down, we already know: that our relationship to nature and the animal kingdom is profoundly out of joint.
The Blind King of the Kabul Zoo was imprisoned, humiliated, starved, wounded, and laid low. Would it be too much to say that, in his own way, he died for the sins of a world gone astray? Will his kind, like Aslan the Lion in C.S. Lewis’s famous children’s stories, find a way to rise again one day?
As he looks out at us in his final portrait, we know, at the core of our being, that if he and we are to rise again, it will only be when respect for all living creatures takes root at the very heart of our way of life.