File photo of Kavaan at Marghazar Zoo.
File photo of Kavaan at Marghazar Zoo.

ISLAMABAD: Though it is too late to save Suzy, the African elephant who died aged 33 in Lahore under questionable circumstances last week, as elephants live well into their 80s in captivity, Kavaan the lone elephant at the Islamabad zoo can still be saved.

The 32-year-old Asian elephant has been kept in chains for more than two decades. The campaign to free him by animal lovers across the country and abroad last year led to a series of Senate hearings and the Senate Standing Committee on Cabinet Secretariat took up Kavaan’s issue after the media reported on the terrible conditions under which he is kept in at the zoo.

In July last year, the committee’s chairman, Senator Talha Mehmood and other members recommended that Kavaan be sent abroad to an elephant sanctuary. A sanctuary in Cambodia has offered to fly him out there free of cost and to keep him in a natural environment for the rest of his life.

“After three hearings, the Senate committee asked the Capital Development Authority (CDA) to devise a plan for sending Kavaan to a sanctuary. It has been almost a year since and no action plan has been made,” said Dr Bilal, who was then deputy director of the Islamabad zoo and attended the hearings.

“I don’t know of any plans for sending him abroad. I did not get any order or a copy of an order from the Senate committee,” he said.

Kavaan has lived in the Islamabad zoo since he was a calf and was gifted to General Zia by the Sri Lankan government. He has given almost 30 years of service, taking tips from tourists and standing for hours on end in the hot sun during zoo hours. Animal lovers say it is high time he retired.

“The standard [of Pakistani zoos] is not very high and animals are given poor quality nutrition. Suzy had high uric acid which is why she had acute pain in her legs. They make elephants stand for hours in one place during zoo hours as their handlers make them collect money from visitors. An elephant in the Lahore or Islamabad zoo can collect up to Rs35,000 a day,” said Sunil Jamil of the Help Welfare Organisation.

Kavaan’s case is particularly tragic as he was tied with chains for years by his mahout, who mistreated him and prodded him with metal rods. His partner Saheli died from gangrene aged 22 in 2012 after one of her wounds became infected.

“There are no proper vets or medical facilities for the Islamabad Zoo. Elephants are very social animals and need to be able to walk long distances which make safari parks more suitable for them. Zoos all over the world are now removing elephants,” Mr Jamil said.

The Islamabad zoo was meant to be a refuge for the leopards, gazelles and other animals found in the region and was later made home to the animals gifted by visiting heads of state. It was not meant to be a proper zoo and will cost millions to be turned into a world-class facility, which the CDA had planned to do.

“The PC-1 for upgrading the Islamabad Zoo was prepared four years ago by a South African consultant and needs to be revisited and re-budgeted. It is not a matter of just one animal, we have to decide what to do with all the large animals in the zoo,” said Dr Anisur Rehman, head of Islamabad’s Wildlife Management Board.

Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2017

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