THE World’s Loneliest Elephant might presently be the most famous too, enjoying near-celebrity status. Yesterday, after years of tireless campaigning by animal rights activists, Kaavan arrived in Cambodia from Islamabad Zoo — his home for over three decades — and was received at the airport by American singer Cher. The singer, who was at the forefront of the efforts for his release, spent the past few days in Islamabad, and even met the prime minister. In May, the Islamabad High Court had ordered the release of Kaavan from the Islamabad Zoo, along with all other animals, due to the deplorable conditions there. Appallingly, two lions died during their transfer to a farm in Lahore. According to the postmortem report, the two had suffocated to death after their caretakers lit a fire inside their cage. For the past few months, a dedicated team of experts from Four Paws International looked after Kaavan, so he could make a safe journey to the sanctuary in Cambodia. Now, he will open his eyes in his new home. After spending many years without a companion, he will finally be surrounded by his own kind.

Kaavan may have tasted freedom, and a better life lies ahead of him, but countless animals remain trapped in captivity. It is unlikely their plight will recreate media attention or capture the public’s interest in the same way, but the tireless work must go on. While there have been some gains — wild-animal circuses are now banned in several countries, for instance — there is a long journey ahead. Civilisation’s bottomless appetite — to consume, to be entertained — has cost the planet heavily, and we will continue to see the effects of such avarice, until there is a mass and serious change in attitudes towards the natural environment, including the enslavement of animals. In the words of an earlier champion of animal rights: “The question is not, Can they reason? Nor, Can they talk? But, Can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being?”

Published in Dawn, December 1st, 2020

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