“If mankind didn’t exist, all the living creatures would live very well.”
My name is Aziz Gul Saqib
I am the Director of The National Zoo in Kabul
Before the wars Afghans were great pet lovers but when the trouble came it brought with it hardship; people were struggling to protect their own children, let alone animals.
Take poor old Marjan, the lion. During the civil war, a Panjshiri jumped into the cage and goaded Marjan who promptly killed him. The following day, the dead man’s brother came to seek revenge and after throwing a grenade, rendered Marjan blind in one eye, deaf and disabled. He died in 2002 and remains a great symbol of Afghanistan’s suffering and the horror of the war. God tells us many times to be kind to all animals; our existence is dependent on them.
The zoo was completely destroyed in the Civil War and most of the animals died of hunger. Those that were considered Halal, were eaten and the building was looted. There were a few vets caring for the few animals left – like Marjan the Lion and the vultures. When the Taliban took over they weren’t sure if it was lawful to keep animals in a cage but the then director explained why it was and eventually they provided 2 million Afs for food and even restored one of the walls.
Those days have gone but their shadows are long. People’s minds have become infected by so much conflict. I can see it in the way some of the visitors behave; they shake the cage or throw shoes and rocks at the animals, even though it is forbidden. There is a law against cruelty to animals but no one pays a blind bit of notice or bothers to enforce it. We will be installing surveillance cameras with loudspeakers soon.
The zoo was opened in 1967 and I was in 2nd grade at school on my first visit. I loved animals and had a dog and an array of birds at home. My uncle took me to the zoo and the first animal we saw was an elephant that he sat me on. It made me more and more curious about other animals and I would come here with my note book during the Taliban regime to learn as much as possible about the remaining animals.
When the new government came in 2001 the zoo’s renovation started. The Municipality of Kabul received donations from the London Zoological Society and North Carolina Zoo in America. When I came to work here 7 years ago it was still very run down. The first thing I did was to install an internet connection so I could connect with other zoos and associations around the world. We became members of SAZARC, (South Asian Zoo Association for Regional Cooperation) and received $1.3 million dollars to expand the zoo and new cages were donated from India. The zoo is also currently member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums We currently have 90 species of animals, birds, reptiles and fishes.
Last year we had 500,000 visitors but we aim for 700,000 next year. The younger generation are more engaged. Afghanistan hosts a diverse group of animals and the zoo is a good place to show them to other people but sadly many are poached for their furs and are on the brink of extinction. It is said that the zoo was once home to 1600 Marco Polo deer. I’d like to see that again.
Every day is different. I love my job, I really do, because I love the animals. When you love a job you excel in it. There is nothing nicer than arriving at work each day and going to see them.
The animals are to me what the moon and stars are to astronomers; I know them all individually and they keep me calm. I went to the elephant cage last night and it reminded me of my first visit here and of the hard days which followed. I don’t want our children to see empty cages or crippled animals.
My message is love the animals or else suffer the consequences. There is an Indian saying, “If mankind didn’t exist, all the living creatures would live very well. And if there were no other creatures, mankind would have become extinct years ago”.
During my first week here we had a bear on her own in a cage. One day she escaped into the neighboring pigpen and must have been so lonely as she hugged one of the pigs to death. It was a female pig too but this is what happens when you are lonely, whether you are male or female. She just needed to be loved and show her love in return.
May god protect us from the bear hug.