Marjan, the lion, now pride of Afghanistan’s Kabul zoo
Zoo vets have nursed the animal back to good health after finding it close to death on a rooftop
Kabul's zoo has unveiled its new star attraction - Marjan the lion, who lived on a rooftop in the city until rescued by animal welfare officials last year when close to death.
A businessman in the war-torn Afghan capital had bought the male lion cub as a status symbol for US$20,000 and kept his pet on a roof terrace.
However, the fast-growing animal was seriously ill when Kabul municipal officials tracked him down last October.
"We found him in a very dire condition," vet Abdul Qadir Bahawi said on Tuesday. "He was almost dead. He couldn't move, he couldn't even raise his head.
"We were not sure that he would survive. But our efforts paid off, and he is much better. Now he loves to play with us. I think he loves us a lot."
Marjan is named after a famous half-blind lion who lived at Kabul zoo and became a symbol of Afghanistan's national survival after living through coups, invasions, civil war and the hardline Taliban era before dying in 2002.
The first Marjan, born in 1976, was blinded by a grenade thrown by an angry soldier whose brother had been killed after entering his cage. Mujahideen fighters also ate the zoo's deer and rabbits and shot dead its only elephant.
The new Marjan made headlines around the world when he was found last year, living on the roof of a compound in the upmarket Taimani district of the capital.
His owner denied it was cruel and said he was looking after the lion well and feeding him fresh meat daily. But the lion's health declined quickly in his unsuitable living quarters.
Government inspectors took him from the owner and started an intense five-month rehabilitation programme at the zoo to bring him back to health, including regular massage and physiotherapy sessions.
"Marjan eats about eight kilos of meat, every day at 4pm," said Qurban Ali, the lion keeper at the spartan zoo, which first opened in 1967.
"He has been doing very well. He eats a whole cow leg, including the bone."
Marjan, who is aged about one, will soon be on show to the public for the first time after moving to a larger enclosure that he will share with a female lion donated by China.
Although shabby and rundown, the zoo still attracts many thousands of visitors during the weekends.
Bahawi plans to see if there is any chance of the two lions mating, but he warned that it looked unlikely. "Marjan is ready, but [the female] is more than 15 years old and has had two serious operations," he said. "I think she is too old."