Caretaker Mohammad Jalal looks at ‘Kaavan’ at Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad. Unloved and chained for 29 years, Kaavan was abused at Islamabad Zoo till the court's verdict recently that the elephant be moved to an animal sanctuary. Image Credit: AP

Islamabad: International animal rights group ‘Pro-Elephant Network’ (Pren) has hailed Islamabad High Court’s recent judgement to relocate the federal capital’s lonely, chained elephant Kaavan to an animal sanctuary as a ground-breaking verdict and a victory for animals rights activists.

In a letter dated June 8, 2020, and addressed to the legal team that raised and contested the issue of 35-year-long captivity of ageing Kaavan in Islamabad’s Margazar Zoo, Pren congratulated the team on the historic decision, saying it had very few precedents.

“Your historic representation of the case of Elephant Kaavan, deprived of life and freedom for 35 years, and the hard work it entailed had gone to make this legal battle with few, if any, precedents,” the letter stated.

Unimaginable pain and suffering

While referring to the ordeal of the animal that has been living a miserable life in the zoo for more than three decades, the letter further says: “We welcome the judgement for its many key statements, starting from the one which recognised that Kaavan had been treated cruelly by subjecting him to unimaginable pain and suffering for the past three decades and his continued captivity in the circumstances would expose the authorities to criminal consequences under the Act of 1890 [Pakistan Penal Code]. The pain and suffering of Kaavan must come to an end by relocating him to an appropriate elephant sanctuary in or outside the country.”

Need for Protected Contact

Pren’s letter further highlights the need to provide the animal with an environment that guarantees it to be in protected contact at the sanctuary.

“Our specialists who have worked hands-on with elephants, would like to respectfully suggest that Kaavan needs to be placed in a management with Protected Contact (PC). This is crucial for the choice of the sanctuary, his new home, as he has hardly been in direct contact, a standard which many sanctuaries apply,” the letter says.

Body announced for Kaavan’s relocation

Meanwhile, the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB), in compliance with Islamabad High Court’s (IHC) May 21 judgement, has constituted an eight-member committee for relocation of Kaavan and other animals of Margzar Zoo to sanctuaries.

The IWMB expert committee comprises WWF senior director, programme, Pakistan, Rab Nawaz, as its chairman, and biodiversity specialist Z.B. Mirza as co-chairman.

The members include: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Wildlife chief conservator Dr Mohsin Farooq, Islamabad Zoo veterinary officer Dr Bilal Khilji, Bahria Zoo’s Dr Masoodul Haq, Save the Elephant Foundation’s Dr Tom Channarong, IUCN’s Nilanga Jaysinghe and co-founder of Save the Elephant Foundation Derek Thompsan.

As per the terms of reference of the expert committee, it would examine establishing sanctuary in Pakistan, which meets the behavioural, social and physiological needs of Kaavan.

The IHC had, on May 21, directed the authorities to relocate all animals from the unfriendly and poorly-managed Margazar Zoo to animal sanctuaries.

Chief Justice Athar Minallah, in his verdict, highlighted the “unimaginable pain and suffering the animal has been subjected to for the past three decades”.