Marjan (1976 – January 25, 2002) was the most famous resident of the rundown Kabul Zoo. The lion witnessed Afghanistan’s turbulent history, from the 1978 murder of King Zahir Shah’s brother-in-law, Sardar Mohammed Daoud and his entire family, to the arrival of the communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan that launched another coup, Great Saur Revolution, the USSR invasion, occupation and departure, state of warlordism, and the fall of Taliban. Once the western forces moved into the country, devastating conditions in Kabul’s once well kept Zoo were revealed. Marjan, the blind lion, became an instant celebrity.
Marjan, which in Persian means coral, was born in 1976 and was given as a gift to Kabul in 1978 by the Cologne Zoo. He arrived in the Afghan capital and, soon afterwards, a lioness by the name of Chucha joined him. During the USSR occupation, Kabul's Zoo did experience attack at the hands of the Russian army but compared to the total destruction of the city around it, was still largely spared. However, once the Russians left the country, the civil war that ensued, along with the state of total chaos, enveloped Kabul in the middle of a battlefield. The zoo was shelled on many occasions, even destroying its medical supply facility, leaving zoo personnel unable to help wounded animals.
On March 27 1995, a man who made a bet with his friends sneaked into the lion’s den. The man stroked Chucha, the lioness, who did not react, but Marjan attacked the man and killed him within minutes. The following day, the man’s brother came and threw 3 hand grenades into the lion’s den, seriously injuring Marjan. His eyes had to be removed by MDM, a PSF (Pharmaciens Sans Frontières) Logistics Officer who first called for help, MSF doctors and an Italian photojournalist, thus rendering him blind, deaf, and permanently disabled. Despite several operations, neither Marjan’s eyesight nor his mouth could be saved. He lost all of his teeth, making it impossible for him to eat boned meat. A ramp was also built for him to get back into his den, as he was seen falling a few times while trying to make it back inside. The incident sparked outrage with animal rights activists, local and abroad. The man who threw the grenade was violently attacked a week later, and died of injuries.
With the arrival of the United States-led coalition, the western media quickly picked up the story of the lion. As the news spread, many animal welfare organizations, such as World Animal Protection, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and many zoos around the world, lent a helping hand in form of money, medical supplies, as well as personnel that included vets and nurses. Despite overwhelming response, Marjan succumbed to old age and died in January 2002. Both private and public funeral ceremonies were held for the famous lion that was buried in the zoo. On his grave is posted a sentence in Pashto: Here lies Marjan, who was about 23. He was the most famous lion in the world.
In March 2002, China donated a pair of lions to the Kabul Zoo to replace Marjan.
Marjan is mentioned in Khaled Hosseini's novel "The Kite Runner" and is the central and eponymous figure in the play The Lion of Kabul by Colin Teevan, part of The Great Game: Afghanistan. Marjan appears in Denis Johnson's essay collection Seek. More recently Marjan has also been mentioned in Kim Barker's book "The Taliban Shuffle". He is also the subject of Dwyer Jones' poem, "Lion of Afghanistan (Apology to Marjan)."
- George, Marcus (13 January 2002). "Help arrives for Kabul's war-weary lion". bbc.co.uk. BBC. Retrieved 30 May 2012.
- George, Marcus (27 January 2002). "Afghans saddened by lion's death". bbc.co.uk. BBC. Retrieved 30 May 2012.
- "Chinese lions head to Marjan's Kabul home". cnn.com. CNN. 20 March 2002. Retrieved 30 May 2012.