Decades of zoo joy end as Kaavan flies to Cambodia

Published November 30, 2020
Kaavan is seen in Islamabad's Marghazar Zoo before being loaded into a cage. — Photo courtesy Islamabad Zoo Friends Twitter
Kaavan is seen in Islamabad's Marghazar Zoo before being loaded into a cage. — Photo courtesy Islamabad Zoo Friends Twitter
A crane lifting the cage carrying Kaavan before a truck took it to the airport for transportation to Cambodia. — APP
A crane lifting the cage carrying Kaavan before a truck took it to the airport for transportation to Cambodia. — APP

ISLAMABAD: Kaavan, the lone elephant, embarked on a mammoth journey from Pakistan to Cambodia in the wee hours of Monday morning on a specially chartered cargo plane from Russia.

Sunday was a busy day for the global animal welfare organisation Four Paws. Their veterinarians went to work early in the morning and sedated Kaavan before shifting him into a special cage in which the elephant would be transported to a sanctuary in Cambodia.

It was a day of many firsts. This is the first time an animal from Pakistan is being taken abroad for rest and recreation and health recovery. It was also the first time Four Paws was shifting a full-grown 4.8-tonne elephant of this age by air to a sanctuary in another country.

“You can see the large team of vets observing the partially sedated elephant and monitoring his vitals,” spokesperson for Four Paws Hannah Baker told Dawn. Four Paws has previously shifted mostly big cats and bears.

Lonely elephant was sedated before being shifted into a special cage

The 35-year-old bull elephant has been the focus of years of campaigning by animal rights activists who had long called for the lone elephant to be moved. American pop singer Cher and her organisation Free the Wild led the campaign for the elephant’s freedom, while journalist and writer Eric Margolis donated around $400,000 to help Four Paws meet travel expenses.

In 2012, Kaavan’s partner Saheli died and he has been alone since then. Conditions at Islamabad zoo had become so bad that the Islamabad High Court had in May this year finally ordered that all animals at the zoo be shifted to better homes.

Kaavan has had nearly four months of veterinary care and special training to prepare for the 10-hour long journey. The vets took him off only-sugar-cane-diet and started feeding him nutritionally better food like fruits and vegetables, which helped Kaavan lose some 200 kilograms.

The Four Paws team, which will accompany Kaavan, said his cracked feet needed to heal and cuticles had to be treated. These health concerns if ignored will exacerbate.

A welcome committee awaits Kaavan in Cambodia. According to Special Assistant to the PM on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam, Prime Minister Imran Khan has directed his office to ensure that Kaavan receives all the care that has been promised to him.

At the sanctuary in Cambodia, Kaavan will take baby steps towards a new life. He will initially be placed in a 10-acre facility where he will be able to see other elephants and even touch them with his trunk.

“Kaavan is a lucky guy. There are three female elephants at this fairly new species appropriate sanctuary and he will be the first male elephant there. He will get acquainted to the grass and plains before being allowed to freely roam in the 25,000-acre sanctuary and forage for himself. And we never know, we might even have baby Kaavans later,” Hannah Baker said.

In captivity, Asian elephants can live up to 80 years. “But Kaavan has had a difficult life. We can only hope that with proper care he will live long,” Ms Baker said, crossing her fingers.

Kaavan has wowed visitors for more than three decades as the only Asian elephant at Islamabad zoo. While Amin Aslam said it was a sad but the right step to retire Kaavan after 35 years in captivity, Senator Faisal Javed said in an apologetic tone, “It is a matter of shame that we could not care for Kaavan, the affectionate elephant who had brought so much joy in the lives of children and adults alike.”

Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2020

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