Pakistan is the only Asian country in which there are no elephants. At least, no native elephants.
The saga of a Kaavan, the tortured elephant that has finally been ordered free, means there is one less elephant being kept there in chains.
Kaavan was born in Sri Lanka but given to Pakistan’s leader as a gift in 1985, when he was just 1 year old. From there, he ended up in the Murghazar Zoo in Islamabad where sweltering temperatures and a lack of foliage in his tiny pen have upset animal advocates around the world for decades.
Asian elephants normally roam hundreds of miles through tropical forests.
But Kaavan’s pen was a mere 100 x 150 yards and had very limited shade.
Much of the protest over the animal started when zoo-goers reported him being chained up in his small enclosure in 2002. The zookeepers said it was for his own safety since he was exhibiting violent tendencies (for which we really can’t blame him considering his plight).
While he was freed from his chains after a petition that year garnered over 200,000 signatures protesting his treatment, his enclosure was still nowhere near adequate.
Even a partner elephant, Sahelo, brought in to keep him company in 1990 died eight years ago.
Then, in 2015, people found out Kaavan was being chained again for several hours a day.
The lonely elephant has since been at the center of an animal rights battle with advocates for him living all around the world – including the pop icon Cher.
Kaavan is now 33 and Cher has been trying to use her influence to get him free since 2016.
On May 21st, Kaavan and his friends finally got some good news. The Islamabad High Court issued an order to free him and told wildlife officials to consult with officials in his original home of Sri Lanka to find him a “suitable sanctuary” within 30 days.
“The pain and suffering of Kaavan must come to an end by relocating him to an appropriate elephant sanctuary, in or outside the country,” the court decree read.
The zoo’s standards were deemed unacceptable and they were also ordered to relocate dozens of other animals – including brown bears, lions, and birds – while they improved their standard of care.
Cher posted the news on Twitter along with a thanks to the Pakistani government:
According to Gulf News, an eight-member committee has been convened to find the best way to relocate Kaavan. In includes a senior director from the World Wildlife Foundation, a biodiversity specialist, a vet from the Islamabad zoo, and the founder of Save the Elephants.
Mark Cowne, the CEO of Free The Wild, a charity he runs with Cher told Al Jazeera:
“It’s so exciting. It’s remarkable … I’m so happy for Kavaan. We were concerned about his mental health, he was in a very bad condition. We really wanted to help him. He had been through a terrible time, locked up for 26 years, chained up for all that time.”
According to The Guardian, Kaavan’s zookeepers were recently suspended for stealing his food. And earlier in 2020, there were reports of wild boars had been breaking into the elephant’s enclosure to steal his bread and fruit. With only a dirty pond nearby, Kaavan was found to be severely dehydrated.
Meanwhile, the pop star called the day she heard of the court’s decree “one of the greatest moments of my life.”
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