Monday, April 6, 2009
A MEMORIAL AGAINST CRUELTY
CAUTION: This post is very upsetting but I hope you will read it because it is a story of a hero from another land. I hope you read this story so that we can all remember that not only human lives are destroyed by war. I hope you read this story so that we can all remember to have compassion for every living creature on this planet. I hope you read this story so that we can all know that love does endure.
I cried and unless you are a much better person than I, you will cry too. I read about this hero months ago and I knew I wanted to tell as many people as I could his story but I have not been able to. Every time I started to write about him I would start crying. I am certain that there are far worse atrocities in this world but there is just something about this story that breaks my heart.
The city of Kabul, Afghanistan once had a beautiful zoo. In 1978, the zoo received a lion cub from a zoo in Germany and they named him 'Marjan', which is Afghan for 'precious stone'. He was only two years old and little did they know just how precious he would turn out to be.
The Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1978 and for more than a decade, Kabul was spared the ravages of war. In 1992 after the Russians left, civil war broke out and it centered around Kabul. In the months that followed the zoo was virtually destroyed and the animals that were injured were not even given pain medication because the shelling had destroyed their medical supplies.
After the civil war in 1993, a foolish soldier decided to show his friends how brave he was. He went into the lion, Marjan's den and decided he would pet the mate, Chucha, of Marjan. The lioness did not react to the soldier but Marjan ran across the enclosure and killed the man. Now it is a lion's nature to protect his lioness and Marjan was no different than any other lion. The dead soldiers brother retaliated against the lion by coming to the zoo and throwing a hand grenade in with Marjan who though it was food.
The purpose of a male lions mane is to protect him from other lions who might attack. It apparently works with hand grenades as well. When the grenade exploded, Marjan's neck and chest were spared serious injury but his face was badly mutilated by the blast. One eye had to be removed and shrapnel became embedded in his jaw and mouth and most of it could not be removed. The concussion also rendered him deaf. But Marjan recovered and lived on.
Despite the massive injury to Marjan, he was still standing and a photojournalist who was present and who assisted in holding the lion for treatment said that it was amazing how Marjan seemed to know that the stranger was trying to help him and did not struggle.
Marjan was loved by the people who took care of him and Marjan showed his love for them in return. Lions are very spiritual people and are capable of forming the deepest bonds with humans (Just watch youtubes video about 'Christian the Lion' if you doubt this).
Love can give new strength to someone who is weak and Marjan's relationship with his human friends surely strengthend his will to live.
Still it was not easy for Marjan. He had surgeries to repair damages to the jaw but he lost his teeth. Majan could no longer chew on bones. He had to be fed soft meat so he could eat it properly. He needed other types of special care too but in spite of everything he continued to thrive.
The peaceful times for the Kabul Zoo were short lived when the Taliban took over in 1996. They regularly tormented the few remaining animals in the zoo. Marjan was badly stoned and the Taliban officials wanted to kill all the zoo animals. The animals were spared when it was pointed out to the officials that Mohammed had loved animals and kept pets.
Some time in 2000, Marjan's lioness, Chucha, died of a mysterious illness. Marjan grieved her death. He did not eat for a week. He was closely bonded to his keeper and received comfort from him. The keeper had no fear of Marjan. The keeper said he was a noble, gentle king.
After 9-11 when the U.S. began their attacks on Afghanistan, things at the zoo became even worse. The zoo workers received no pay but they loyally remained and cared for the animals left at the zoo. A local butcher saw to it that Marjan always had something to eat. He was already a local hero with the people. He was the lion who would not give up and continued to be proud.
Marjan became world famous in 2001, when Kabul was freed from the Taliban. Soon after the plight of the zoo was made known around the world and help poured in, especially for Marjan. There are several organizations in America still helping the zoo.
Eventually a team of zoo experts made it to the Kabul Zoo. After a thorough exam of Marjan he was reported to be weak and thin but in reasonably good health. They felt any further surgeries to Marjan would be risky because of his age and his injuries had healed fairly well. He was treated for parasites and put on vitamins and heat was installed to his den box. They also decided to build a ramp into his den box as Marjan often stumbled as he entered it. It was believed he was going blind in his remaining eye.
At first Marjan responded well to his treatments and then he seemed to have trouble moving around. Then he started to go downhill and he stopped eating. It was not long before he became very weak and required assistance to get in and out of his den box. Always the strong lion, Marjan did not appear in any distress and enjoyed lounging in the warm sunshine. Within a few days he became so weak he had to be carried into his den box on a mattress. The next day his caretaker found him dead lying in the same spot he had been placed the night before. Grown men cried. Marjan's age had been established at just over 25 years at the time of his death.
It is believed that Marjan died of liver and kidney failure. He would have been about 88 years in human years. Lions usually live about 20 years in captivity.
Some wondered why Marjan had died when he was in reasonably good health a few weeks earlier. The old lion had led a tough stress filled life for most of his years. His deep relationship with his caretakers enabled him to ward off the adverse conditions in his life. He was much loved by his caretakers and the Afghan people. He was able to let down his stress defense and relax for the first time in many years. So Marjan, who had survived many tough times gave in to old age.
They said that Marjan did not appear to suffer very much. Even though he did not move around very much in the end his caretaker said he appeared content. They said he drifted off peacefully and died in his sleep.
Marjan is in that special place God has for brave souls (and creatures). He is once more whole and he can see and hear and he is free from the suffering and cruelty of this world.
After Marjan died, his body was left where it lay. Many Afghan people came by to pay their respects to their brave hero. His remains were buried on the zoo grounds. A memorial service was held for Marjan and a statue is being erected at the zoo entrance when it is rebuilt.
A sign was erected over Marjan's grave. The sign reads, 'Marjan. He was about 25 and he was the most famous lion in the world'.
Marjan was born in captivity and lived a life on the front line. Marjan was a symbol to the Afghan people. They felt he was old like their country and like their country he went through hardships but remained strong.
He is a symbol of strength when all hope is lost. He was a symbol of love that few of us can really understand.
Marjun 1976 - 2002