Aga Akbar

Aga Akbar

The Kabul Zoo was once a showpiece in Asia with spacious cages set along a tranquil river bank. It is in ruins now, a sad monument to the fighting in Afghanistan.

When this was written only a few animals were left, among them a blind lion and a lame black bear maimed by shelling. They are looked after by Aga Akbar, a lanky zookeeper who lived 18 terrible months on the front lines rather than abandon his charges. Strolling along a rocket-blasted path, Akbar passes a stretch of rubble and notes that those were enclosures for the animals he loved.

He recalls the long months in 1993/1994 when the zoo was smack in the middle of the front line. Outside the gates of the zoo, soldiers hunkered in a maze of trenches. Tanks parked at the entrance fired at their enemies across the street. Through the worst of the fighting, Akbar stayed. He spent hours huddled beneath a slab of stone waiting for the rocketing to stop. He never left because he loved these animals.

The front line is now on the southern outskirts of Kabul, and the relative peace has been a chance for him to clean-up the zoo. Hundreds of pieces of unexploded ordinance have been hauled away, a mountain of shrapnel swept up, and a half dozen anti-personnel mines removed.

Still living on the grounds, Akbar devotes his time to the survivors - two lions, four bears, two wolves, two wild boars, several monkeys and some rare birds. They are his family. What Akbar lacks in expertise, he makes up in compassion.

Footnote:

Human tragedy

"The past has not just been miserable for the zoo's animals. Akbar, a former zoo keeper, was brutally killed by an unknown assailant two years ago."

"He was a very kind old man and he dedicated his whole life to this place. He continued his work during the worst fighting in Kabul," said the current zoo keeper.

"Now he is seen as a champion in Afghanistan."

By BBC News Online's Marcus George in Afghanistan - Thursday, 6 December, 2001

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