Dr. Amir Khalil caressing Kaavan, Pakistan’s only Asian elephant, during a daily session with the animal in Islamabad’s Marghazar Zoo. Image Credit: Supplied

Islamabad: As the expected departure of Kaavan - Pakistan’s only Asian elephant - to Cambodia draws near,a marked improvement is being noticed in his behaviour.

Earlier the ‘killer’ elephant - as he was named after he crushed a zoo worker to death in 1992 - kept standing in a corner of his shed, most of the time moving his huge trunk from right to left and the zoo employees provided him with food and water from a distance.


However, now, thanks to the Austrian team of experts from the Four Paws International, the animal is being nice and less aggressive. Still many fear going near him. The team arrived last month on August 22 to examine the animal’s fitness and medical condition before its possible relocation.

Four Paws team’s lead vet Dr. Amir Khalil is perhaps the only guy in years that the animal has allowed to come close. He says it took him weeks to win the pachyderm’s trust.

Daily routine

Daily, he does two sessions with the animal, first in the morning from 9.00 am to 12pm and secondly, from 4.30 p. to 6.30 p. In his daily schedule, there are no off days. “I make it a point to develop a daily routine of the animal. I talk to him, feed him and sing songs so that he might be familiar with human company,” he says.

Seeing Dr. Khalil singing to the pachyderm is an incredible sight. In the beginning, unaccustomed to close human contact, the elephant grew a little agitated, however later it calmed down as Khalil played Sinatra’s classic melody “My Way” on the speakers of his cell phone and sang it.

Both of them also take many rounds of the barbed place with the song playing in the background and during the walk, Khalil patiently waits for the animal to pick grass from the ground or sniff the branches of trees overhead.

During the work, the Austrian vet is assisted by his team member Marion Lombard, Velizar and the Pakistani staff of the Wildlife Board. “These guys are a great help to me in my daily task as it is a risky business and everyone has to be extremely careful,” said Dr Khalil.

While seeing him patting Kaavan playfully on the back, caressing him, talking and singing to him makes many of his team mates and even the zoo workers emotional. “It brings tears to my eyes,” said Marion. “I have not seen such a sweet creature in my life,” said she while feeding apples to Kaavan.

A zoo worker also confirmed that never before Kaavan had allowed anyone near him. It is quite inexplicable for him to depart from his earlier aggressive mood.

Natural habitat

On Sunday, Dr. Khalil administered eye drops to Kaavan which he said were sour because of inflammation. Kaavan has been in the Zoo for 35 years while the average age of an elephant is 60 or 65. Now it is time for him to spend the rest of his life in peace in the natural habitat, he said.However, he admitted it was not a simple thing as it looked.

First of all the Pakistani government is the competent authority to make a decision. Then a big crate big enough for a 5,000 plus kg elephant needed to be constructed. Then the animal will have to be trained to go inside that huge cage. For the relocation of the elephant we might need a jumbo, Antonov A-225 aircraft, he said.

Though short of tools and faced with a number of challenges Dr. Khalil is quite hopeful about Kaavan’s future and keeps pinning his faith in the bond of trust that has been established between him and the animal. “Kaavan is everyone’s favourite but to me he is a buddy and he listens to me and follows me that I believe because of my luck, the melodies I play to him and the bond of trust between us.”

The plight of the chained animal had invited international condemnation and an American vet Samar Khan launched a worldwide online petition to set the animal free. Some 400,000 people voiced their support and among Kaavan’s fans include music icon and activist Cher.

However it was after the Islamabad High Court took notice of the poor condition of Kaavan and ordered his relocation in May this year that the government moved into action.