World’s Loneliest Elephant Leaves Pakistan after 35 Years

Kaavan, dubbed the world’s loneliest elephant, will leave the Pakistani zoo he has been in for more than 35 years.

Elephant Kaavan

"There are lots of animals in Pakistan in miserable conditions."

An elephant kept alone in a tiny enclosure in a Pakistani zoo has on November 29, 2020, been given clearance to move.

A campaign by animal welfare activists has helped ensure him better conditions elsewhere.

Dubbed the ‘world’s loneliest elephant’, Kaavan has languished at a zoo in Islamabad for more than 35 years.

Activists around the world campaigned for Kaavan’s release, accusing Islamabad zookeepers of keeping him isolated, and chained up.

They blamed the zoo for not providing the animal with proper shelter and relief during hot summer months. They also fought a long legal battle for his freedom.

In May 2020, a court in Islamabad ordered authorities to release the animal and find a suitable sanctuary for him.

The ruling also saw the Pakistani judges ordering the relocation of dozens of other animals, including lions, bears and birds, until the zoo improves the animals’ living conditions.

Kaavan arrived in Islamabad from Sri Lanka as a young calf in 1985, as a gift from Colombo to the former dictator General Zia ul-Haq.

In 2002, zookeepers said he was being temporarily chained due to increasingly violent behaviour.

He was freed later that year, but zoo officials later apparently resumed the practice.

Animal rights activists have said Pakistan’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, passed in 1890, is outdated.

Even though animal cruelty was instated as a punishable offence in the country earlier in 2020, rescue workers say fines alone cannot deter abuse.

Rab Nawaz, of the World Wildlife Federation in Pakistan, said:

“There’s a lot of improvement to be made, Kaavan is just one animal. There are lots of animals in Pakistan in miserable conditions.”

Martin Bauer, a spokesman for Four Paws, said the elephant has been finally given medical approval to travel.

Kaavan will most likely be transported to Cambodia, where he will find companionship and better conditions.

Kaavan underwent a full medical examination at the zoo on November 27, 2020, said Bauer.

In May, Pakistan’s High Court ordered the Marghazar Zoo to be closed because of its poor conditions.

Rescuing Kaavan from the zoo’s dire conditions attracted the attention of animal activists around the world as well as celebrities including US singer Cher, who has lobbied for Kaavan’s relocation for years.

Bauer said in a statement released on November 28, 2020:

“Unfortunately, the rescue comes too late for two lions that died during an attempted transfer at the end of July.

“Local animal handlers had set a fire in the lions’ enclosure to force them into their transport crates.”

He said Four Paws was invited by the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board to safely transfer the remaining animals in the zoo.

Kaavan has until now been forced to live a solitary life in a small enclosure.

Kaavan’s medical examination showed the elephant was overweight, even as he showed signs of malnutrition.

His nails were cracked and overgrown apparently from years of living in an improper enclosure with flooring that damaged his feet.

Bauer stated: “Following the checks, which confirmed Kavaan is strong enough to travel.

“Steps will now be taken to finalise his relocation to an animal sanctuary potentially in Cambodia.”

His recovery will be a long one, said Bauer, adding that Kaavan’s wounds are more than just physical.

He also suffers from behavioural issues.

For years, Kaavan was prompted by handlers to salute visitors as they poked him with nailed bullhooks to make him perform.

Kaavan lost his partner in 2012 and has battled loneliness as well as poor living conditions.

Both have taken their toll, Bauer said in an interview.

He added: “He also developed stereotypical behaviour, which means he shakes his head back and forth for hours. This is mainly because he is simply bored.”

The Four Paws team that carried out Kaavan’s physical included wildlife veterinarians and experts.

It wasn’t immediately known when Kaavan would be able to travel. Rights activists have lobbied for his relocation since 2016.

Now four years later, Kaavan is finally travelling to finer pastures in Cambodia and the much-needed company of other elephants.

The mammoth task of getting him into an elephant-sized metal box for transport took several hours.

It was perhaps the most crucial step in rescuing him from the dire conditions he’s lived in for 35 years.

Akanksha is a media graduate, currently pursuing a postgraduate in Journalism. Her passions include current affairs and trends, TV and films, as well as travelling. Her life motto is 'Better an oops than a what if'.