WPK 200719 Kaavan the elephant at Islamabad Zoo-1595147101816
Kaavan the elephant at Islamabad Zoo. Image Credit: Sana Jamal/Gulf News

Islamabad: After 35 long years at Islamabad Zoo, the city’s beloved yet lonely elephant, Kaavan, is finally free to go to an animal sanctuary. Experts have chosen the 25,000-acre wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia as Kaavan’s new home.

The elephant won its freedom from Islamabad High Court (IHC) on May 21. The court ordered to relocate Kaavan to a suitable sanctuary as well as to shift other animals too due to the poor state of Marghazar Zoo, which is detrimental to animal’s physical and mental health. The decision was widely hailed by global animal rights activists.

After the court verdict, Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB) Chairman Dr. Anis Rehman constituted an eight-member committee tasked with suggesting suitable sanctuaries for the relocation of Kavaan and other animals.

After assessing all possible locations, the committee, headed by Rab Nawaz, IWMB member and Senior Director WWF Pakistan, proposed that the Elephant Sanctuary Cambodia equipped with experts who have relocated and rehabilitated over 80 elephants “would be the best choice.” The sanctuary was selected after evaluating animal safety factors such as the health of the animal, the logistics, suitability and facilities at the proposed relocation site.

The Advisor to Prime Minister on Climate Change, Malik Amin Aslam, said the ministry fully supports all decisions relating to animals’ wellbeing under the directives issued by Prime Minister Imran Khan. The Ministry would now focus on revamping Islamabad Zoo into a more animal-friendly enclave in the light of court’s judgment.

Chief Justice Athar Minallah on May 21 had ordered the release of the caged animals noting, “Neither are there adequate facilities nor resources to provide living conditions that would meet the behavioural, social and physiological needs of the animals.”

Animal lovers hail Kaavan’s freedom

Animal lovers across Pakistan especially those Islamabad citizens who have been at the forefront for the past few years to find Kaavan a new home were delighted to hear the news.

“Finally, Kaavan is going to Cambodia! I can’t express how happy I am for Kaavan. Thank you to all the beautiful souls across the globe who raised their voice and showed their support especially IWMB and advocate Owais Awan” said Ammar Pervaiz, one of the key members of Friends of Islamabad Zoo - a group of citizens concerned about animal welfare at the zoo. Ammar and other members of the group have been raising awareness about the adverse condition of animals at the zoo with regular visits and surveys and enrichment workshops.

The campaign to free Kaavan by animal lovers in Pakistan and abroad in the last few years led to a series of government meetings, court hearings and global media coverage. “For the first time in the history of Pakistan, ‘animal sentience’ has been recognised within the constitutional framework based on eco-centric principles of Islam, definition of ‘Right to Life’ under the Constitution and Universal Declaration of Animal Rights,” said Owais Awan, the lawyer who pursued Kaavan’s case. He cherished the fact that Pakistan’s courts are assuming a supervisory role” to “assure implementation” of the order for the welfare of animals.

WPK 200719 Kaavan the lone elephant at Islamabad Zoo1-1595147099591
The court verdict also highlighted the “unimaginable pain and suffering the animal has been subjected to for the past three decades.” Image Credit: Sana Jamal/Gulf News

Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne, co-founder of the animal welfare organisation Free the Wild that has been actively involved in the case and requesting Pakistan to release the elephant, also hailed the news. “[We] are delighted by the news from Pakistan regarding the relocation and retirement of Kaavan, Pakistan’s last remaining Asian elephant… after 5 years of relentless effort by Free the Wild and Team Kaavan.”

The organisation said it was now working with its team of vets to check Kaavan’s health after which they would apply for the permit to move him - which will be a technically complex and delicate process. Kaavan will then have to be trained “to enter his temporary transport crate, until he is comfortable and familiar with it.” This training is expected to take about 3 to 4 weeks which means he will be freed by the end of September.

When American music icon Cher, co-founder of FTW, heard from Pakistan High Court’s in May, the animal rights campaigner said: “This is one of the greatest moments of my life.”

Kaavan the lone elephant

Kaavan was gifted by Sri Lanka in 1985 when he was a year old and for more than 30 years has been kept chained in a small enclosure, with unsuitable conditions and poor quality diet. The court verdict also highlighted the “unimaginable pain and suffering the animal has been subjected to for the past three decades.”

The 35-year-old Asian elephant has been held in solitary confinement after losing his sole companion Saheli in 2012. An adult elephant can consume up to 300 pounds of food in a single day and walk several kilometres a day. In contrast, Kaavan hardly had the opportunity to walk; his 100 by 150-yard enclosure had almost no foliage, and only limited shade to provide relief from Islamabad’s scorching summer temperatures that can soar above 40 degrees Celsius.