Islamabad bids bittersweet farewell to Kaavan

Published November 24, 2020
An IWMB official feeds Kaavan during a farewell organised for the animal on Monday. The other picture shows singer Natasha Baig performing on the occasion. — Photos by Mohammad Asim
An IWMB official feeds Kaavan during a farewell organised for the animal on Monday. The other picture shows singer Natasha Baig performing on the occasion. — Photos by Mohammad Asim

ISLAMABAD: As the capital’s weather became chilly in the day-long drizzle on Monday, the city’s zoo gave a warm but bittersweet farewell to its main star, Kaavan, as it departs to a sanctuary in Cambodia by the end of this month.

A Russian cargo plane has especially been chartered to transport the elephant. Kaavan’s retirement from Marghazar Zoo was made possible after a lengthy campaign by local and international animal activists.

Kaavan arrived in Pakistan in 1985 as a presidential gift from the Sri Lankan government. In 2002, the animal was put in chains by the zoo administration due to its aggressive behaviour. The chains were removed around five years ago following public outcry.

In May this year, the Islamabad High Court had issued a ruling to set Kaavan free and find a suitable sanctuary for the animal’s resettlement.

Citizens braved the cold weather and drizzle to bid farewell to the elepant which remained the main attraction of the zoo for decades. Khumaariyan, Arieb Azhar and Natasha Baig performed at the farewell.

Elephant to leave for Cambodia on chartered plane by Nov end

“It is a sad but the right step to send off the animal to a sanctuary where it will be in a much bigger space and with its own kind,” Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam said at the farewell.Wildlife expert Zahid Baig Mirza, on the other hand, was not happy with the decision to send the elephant away.

“Sending off Kaavan reflects poorly on our lack of capacity and incompetence to care for animals,” Mr Mirza, who is a member of Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB), said.

He was also part of the technical committee appointed by the Ministry of Climate Change where he spoke against shifting Kaavan to another country. Instead, he suggested that the elephant enclosure be expanded and a female elephant brought in later on.

An IWMB official feeds Kaavan during a farewell organised for the animal on Monday. The other picture shows singer Natasha Baig performing on the occasion. — Photos by Mohammad Asim
An IWMB official feeds Kaavan during a farewell organised for the animal on Monday. The other picture shows singer Natasha Baig performing on the occasion. — Photos by Mohammad Asim

Speaking at the farewell, Mr Mirza said his heart wept on Kaavan’s departure.

Vakar Zakaria, who is also a board member, said: “It was very difficult to reach a decision to send the animal away after its stay with us for 35 years. It is hard to see Kaavan leave and sad that we could not take his proper care.”

To many who are sad with Kaavan leaving, Senior Project Director at Four Paws, an Austrian animal welfare organisation, Marina Ivanova said: “After contracting coronavirus, people complain that the isolation period of 14 days was the most miserable time of their lives. Kaavan has spent 35 years of his life in captivity alone. At the sanctuary, Kaavan will be with its own kind. This is his chance to be an elephant again.”

A team of experts from the animal welfare organisation has been in Islamabad since Aug 22, taking care of Kaavan and getting the animal ready for the roughly seven-hour journey by air to Cambodia. Two weeks ago, a container was placed in the enclosure to make Kaavan acquainted with it.

That process is now complete and the elephant now casually strolls into it and spends time standing inside.

Islamabad zoo is less likely to have an elephant again. According to Mr Aslam, all options were considered before sending off Kaavan, such as introducing a female elephant but later discarded.

He quoted the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora that discourages keeping wild animals in captivity.

“We too will now focus more on wildlife conservation in its natural habitat. Islamabad zoo will be overhauled and turned into a place of learning and research with only indigenous species kept in bigger enclosures.

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2020

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