Kaavan, an elephant  Pakistan
Kaavan, an elephant waiting to be transported to a sanctuary in Cambodia, is seen during a farewell ceremony at the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad, Pakistan November 23, 2020. Image Credit: Reuters

Islamabad: Music, songs and a painting competition were held on Monday at the Marghazar Zoo just outside the enclosure of Kaavan, the elephant, as citizens of Islamabad said goodbye to a friend who brightened their life for 35 years.

Kaavan is leaving Pakistan on November 29 for an elephants sanctuary in Cambodia to live a normal life and raise a family, said Dr Amir Khalil, Director of the Four Paws Project.

Both the Pakistani and the Cambodian governments have issued permits required for his relocation and there is apparently no hurdle, he said.

For the civil society and the animal rights activists who have been struggling for his relocation, it was like a dream come true and the Islamabad High Court (IHC) judgment earlier this year was seen as a milestone in that struggle.

To bid farewell to Kaavan, the Islamabad zoo was adorned with balloons and banners reading ‘We will miss you, Kaavan’ and ‘Bon Voyage.’

The performance by local bands and performers Haroon, Natasha Baig, Khumaariyan, Arieb Azhar and Momina Mustehsan turned the event into a colourful gala.

Four Paws International, the global animal welfare organisation in collaboration with another animals’ rights group, Free the Wild, has raised funds for the relocation of the elephant from Pakistan to Cambodia.

Pakistan’s lone Asian elephant

Kaavan is the only Asian elephant Pakistan has at present. During the last three and a half decades he has been subjected to starvation, torture, solitary confinement, denied healthy food and the company of a female mate.

Amir Khalil Four Paws Kaavan elephant Pakistan
Amir Khalil, head of project development at FOUR PAWS International, listens to a question from a journalist (not pictured) as Kaavan, an elephant waiting to be transported to a sanctuary in Cambodia, is seen in the background during a farewell ceremony at the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad, Pakistan November 23, 2020. Image Credit: Reuters

Kaavan’s plight attracted international attention when the local and international animals’ rights activists launched an online petition that was signed and supported by animals’ rights associations across the world.

Music celebrity Cher coming to see off Kaavan

Among his fans, singer Cher has been vocal calling upon the government of Pakistan and animal rights activists to play their role in the release of the elephant.

She is arriving in Islamabad on Nov 27 saying it will be a life-time experience to see Kaavan flying to Cambodia.

Historic, heart-touching occasion

Though it was raining and the weather had turned cold, the citizens of Islamabad had come in good numbers foreseeing it was going to be their last interaction with Kaavan.

Jibran, an 8-year old boy who had come with his mother from nearby Rawalpindi, said he had heard from his mother she used to come to meet Kaavan and feed him sugarcane. “Today, I have the opportunity to do the same that my mum once did in her childhood,” said Jibran. A visitor Ayesha said it was a historic moment and she would cherish the memories.

A young girl Rida painted a picture of Kaavan and wished him a safe journey.

Speaking on the occasion, Dr Amir Khalil said he was thankful to the Pakistani people, particularly all those who extended a helping hand in making possible Kaavan’s departure from the country.

VIP protocol

“All the arrangements have been made, a Russian plane has been chartered that will land at Rawalpindi’s military (Chaklala Airport) in the morning of November 29, the same evening Kaavan will depart the Marghazar Zoo at 3:00 P.M. in VIP protocol paying his last regards to the city where he was brought as a calf from Sri Lanka in 1985. Kaavan was brought up at the same Marghazar Zoo. Here he had a female companion Saheli who later died of gangrene in 2012.

“Now at the age of 36, Kaavan is leaving for yet another home into retirement,” said Dr Amir Khalil.