Now Reading: “World’s Loneliest Elephant” Kaavan Finally Leaves Pakistan for Cambodia
The ‘World’s Loneliest Elephant’ – Kaavan – has finally embarked on a mammoth move from Pakistan to a chance at a second life in retirement in a Cambodian sanctuary after decades of entertaining crowds from his small, barren patch of land in a Pakistani zoo. This move of the 35-year-old bull elephant comes after years of uproar from local as well as global animal rights groups about its miserable condition in the Islamabad zoo.
Kaavan is a lonely elephant whose cries for help reached far and wide for too long, yet went somewhat unnoticed. The Islamabad zoo has been notorious for its downright horrible conditions for animals for a while, to the point that the Islamabad high court ordered to shift all the animals from the zoo to sanctuaries earlier in the year. Even after that, the incidents of the lions being killed while moving from the zoo have continued to spark outrage.
Due to such conditions, as Kaavan waited for his unknown fate, around him, animals disappeared from their enclosures, rumored to be mainly bound for the plates of those with wealth. Meanwhile, his only companion – the female elephant named ‘Saheli’ – died, allegedly of sepsis brought on by those bull-hook nails digging deep into her skin.
For years, it had seemed that no one really cared about the poor elephant’s lonely fate and that he would breathe his last in this miserable conditions. His wounds weren’t tended to and became infected, chains bound around his legs slowly left permanent scars. After the death of his partner, he started drifting slowly into psychosis and obesity.
A Glimmer of Hope
Arriving in Islamabad from Sri Lanka as a young calf in 1985 as a gift from Colombo to the former dictator General Zia ul-Haq, Kaavan had faced terrible conditions from the beginning such as being ‘temporarily chained’ due to alleged violent behavior as stated by the zookeepers or suffering many wounds, emotional as well as physical.
#Kaavan's last night of sleeping in #Pakistan. Pray pray pray with all your heart that everything goes beautifully for him, and that he gets carried in the arms of the prayers, wishes and hopes of all those wishing him well for all these years. @cher
Image via @ForestGuard4 pic.twitter.com/w304Ojg4ao
— 🍃 Friends of Islamabad Zoo (FIZ) 🍃 🐻 🐘 🐺 🙊 (@IsbZooFriends) November 28, 2020
For years, activists around the world have campaigned for Kaavan’s release, accusing Islamabad zookeepers of keeping the large animal isolated and chained up, not providing him with proper shelter and relief during hot summer months. They have also continued to fight a long, legal battle for the elephant’s freedom.
The first and foremost among these and quite possibly the glimmer of hope that Kaavan had been looking for has been the US singer and actor – Cher. Cher first learned of Kaavan’s issue in 2016. The Oscar-winning actress and singer and cofounder of Free the Wild, a wildlife protection charity, hired a legal team to press for the elephant’s freedom. She also continued to use her platform to bring light to the plight.
When the Islamabad high court announced Kaavan’s freedom in May, she shared her feelings on her social media and called it one of the “greatest moments” of her life. In the following months, she kept her followers updated on the progress of the move.
WE HAVE JUST HEARD FROM
PAKISTAN HIGH COURT
KAAVAN IS FREE😭😭😭😭
— Cher (@cher) May 21, 2020
Cher’s animal welfare group has worked with an American syndicated columnist and philanthropist, Eric Margolis and Four Paws to finance Kaavan’s journey – a mission that cost about $400,000. She has also met with Prime Minister Imran Khan and other government officials on Friday. Animals activists all over have thanked Cher for using her platform to be the glimmer of hope for Kaavan.
A documentary about Kaavan’s journey to freedom will also be made.
🐘Kaavan's journey to freedom from captivity in Islamabad to Cambodia will be a 2021 @SmithsonianChan documentary ❤️ Help us build Kaavan's forever home 🏡 https://t.co/dzdl4Ew4gn 🙏🏻@ftwglobal #KaavansJourney pic.twitter.com/iTxdzfndNB
— Cher (@cher) November 27, 2020
Getting Ready for the Journey to Cambodia
Finally, after all his misery, Kaavan is finally going to have a second shot at life. The past three months have been spent to prepare him for this. This included a team of vets and experts from Four Paws spending months working with Kaavan to get the elephant ready for the trip to Cambodia by training him to enter the massive metal transport crate that would be placed in a cargo plane for the seven-hour flight.
Dr. Amir Khalil, a veterinarian with Four Paws has been treating Kaavan’s many wounds and ailments over the past three months as well. Having been diagnosed as being overweight, especially due to his unsuitable diet of around 250 kilograms (550 pounds) of sugar cane each day and inexperienced staff to monitor it, the animal’s condition had been deteriorating before.
Over the past three months, with Khalil’s help, Kaavan has lost 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms) and was down to a slimmer, more agile 9,000 pounds (over 4,000 kilograms) when he left the zoo for his trip to Cambodia to Sunday.
Prayers for a Blissful Second Life
Dr. Khalil is very hopeful for the second chapter of Kaavan’s life, stating;
“In the sanctuary in Cambodia, waiting for him is three ladies, three Asian female elephants. Now Kaavan might have a new partner, and share a new life with a partner.”
Martin Bauer of Four Paws has also expressed his best hopes for Kaavan. Describing the goal after the move, he stated;
“An elephant transfer by plane on this scale I think has never happened before, so we are writing history here. After the move, the goal is to socialize him. It will take a while because he has lived on his own for such a long time. But yes, ultimately the goal is to bring him together with other animals because that’s what elephants want. They’re herd animals, they always form families, and that’s also what we plan for him.”
Just like Dr. Khalil, Cher and everyone else, we are also happy for Kaavan and are praying that the rest of his life is spent in complete bliss!