Marjan the Afghan Lion

How a lion named Marjan got better medical care than most Afghans have ever known


After a long day with the research team, I headed off to the Kabul Zoo with my friend Ghulam Mohammed and his kids, along with his nephew Samir, a sweet young man of twenty who offered to translate for us. I looked forward to a break from the heaviness of the war stories we’d been listening to each day.

The zoo was once quite nice, but it had been heavily shelled during the civil war, and many of the buildings were badly damaged. A lot of the animals had been killed, some in rocket attacks and others to feed the warlords and their militias. On the day of our visit, the cages were bleak. There was nothing green, no vegetation for the handful of surviving creatures to lie in or climb on. The place was depressing, and the animals, skeletal and weak, looked miserable.

Back in the zoo’s better days, before all the violence began, the Cologne Zoo donated a young lion named Marjan. A beautiful animal, Marjan survived the Soviet occupation, the civil war, even made it through the Taliban.

Just barely.

One day, a young soldier decided to impress his friends by slipping into Marjan’s cage and petting his beloved lioness, Chucha.

Bad move.

Marjan went into a rage and killed the man in a matter of minutes. Next day, his brother returned to the zoo in his own rage, khaili asabi, and threw a grenade into Marjan’s cage. The explosion blinded the lion in one eye and left him lame. He nearly died from the attack, but there was an international outcry, and money poured in for his treatment.

Old Marjan the one-eyed lion got good medical care and a heated cage for his remaining years. Ironically, that means he had better healthcare than the vast majority of Afghans have ever known.

Excerpted from War Torn: Stories of Courage, Love, and Resilience (Larson, 2016)

To learn more about Marjan the Lion, see
To learn more about the impoverished status of healthcare in Afghanistan, see this report from the World Health Organization.


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