The aquarium was damaged in the fighting and shelling destroyed a parrot enclosure. Most famously, Marjan the Lion lost an eye, his hearing and his teeth to a grenade. He died in 2002, but he remains a symbol of the zoo.
As the zoo’s plight became known, the N.C. Zoo Society, the North Carolina Zoo’s private fundraising arm, hoped to get about $30,000. Instead, more than $430,000 poured in. The money helped rebuild exhibits, pay staff and buy animal feed. The North Carolina Zoo also helped with animal care, staff training and a business strategy.
The zoo today is clean, and the modest enclosures and animals appear to be in good condition. There’s a food stand, a Ferris wheel, security cameras, more than 100 species of animals and insects, and 40 employees. Officials claim that attendance was 600,000 last year.
The zoo now has an education center that 30,000 students visited last year, and it’s been allowed to join international zoo groups, including the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which will give it access to high-quality training for the staff.
The zoo is popular in part because it’s a safe, peaceful refuge, particularly for women and children, in a city that has few.
On a recent Friday, despite snow on the ground and near-freezing temperatures, hundreds turned out. Several of them liked the mayor’s plan.
Abdul Aziz, 45, a taxi driver, had eight members of his family in tow.
"You’re always coming into the zoo and seeing the same animals each time," he said. "This is my third visit this winter, but the animals are the same. We certainly want more animals. Expansion of the zoo gives us the opportunity to come every week, maybe, and get familiar with different kinds of animals."
The mayor says the bigger zoo will pay its way by attracting more people. Jones is skeptical, though, because the market size won’t change. It’s unlikely that many people would travel from outside Kabul to go to the zoo, he said.
There are plenty of Afghan animals that could form the heart of a terrific zoo along the lines Coe suggested, Jones said. Among them are one of the world’s most diverse groups of cats, including snow leopards and Asiatic lions. Other exciting species include the Markhor, a massive mountain goat with bizarre spiraling horns.
"They’ve got a lot that is really interesting, and well-designed exhibits for their own animals would satisfy a lot of people and be more sustainable," Jones said.
Aziz Gul Saqib, the Kabul Zoo’s director, says it will use Coe’s design as a guide, and hopes to consult with him more. It will need to work with international advisers and donors to carry out the expansion.
The mayor, meanwhile, is moving ahead. He’s hoping that the land acquisition can start soon. He’s already begun the search for elephants.
"I have asked the ambassador of India for help," he said.
McClatchy special correspondent Rezwan Natiq in Kabul contributed to this story.