Kaavan, elephant is set free finally

Cher saves Kaavan, the loneliest elephant in the world
Cher saves Kaavan, the loneliest elephant in the world

Screenshot 2020-11-29 at 11.43.40

Kaavan's bath time
Kaavan’s bath time
Kaavan's tiny enclosure
Kaavan’s tiny enclosure
Kaavan In Cambodia
Kaavan In Cambodia
Cher after a successful campaign
Cher after a successful campaign

Kaavan, the world’s loneliest elephant has entertained crowds for decades from his tiny half-acre enclosure barren patch of land in Marghazar zoo in Pakistan, is finally

Free, transport five-and-a-half tonne Kaavan on an eight-hour flight to  to Cambodia, thanks to the determination of coalition of determined volunteers including the American pop icon Cher.

Kaavan may never have ended up in Pakistan had it no been for a Bollywood film, Hathi Mera Sathi, some delicate international diplomacy and the whims of one little girl. Zain Zia, the daughter of Pakistan’s then military ruler Gen Ziaul Haq, fell in love with elephants after watching the Bollywood blockbuster Haathi Mere Saathi (Elephants my Friends).

The little Kaavan  was gifted to Pakistani zoo by Sri Lanka’s Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage (PEO) according to Ravi Corea, a US based Sri Lankan elephant rehabilitation expert. Marghuzar Zoo had been built in 1978, as the authorities did not seem to care what happened at the zoo, or to its animals. Several influential zoo employees began offering contracts to family members allowing them to run food stalls and children’s play areas within the attraction’s grounds, as well as on the surrounding green belts.

 “There is no veterinary facility and no medicine supplies in the zoo, there is no animal health facility here, there is no room where a surgery can be performed, and no space where a sick animal can be kept in isolation” Mohammad bin Naveed, a Friends of Islamabad Zoo volunteer.

Around Kaavan, animals disappeared from their enclosures, rumoured to be bound for the plates of wealthy, while his only companion Saheli, an Urdu word for a female friend an elephant brought in from Bangladesh in early 1990s died in 2012, allegedly of Sepsis brought on by those bull-hook nails digging deep into her skin.

“At some point the unsterilized nails of the mahout’s bull hook went too far into her skin and effectively contracted gangrene.” according to Naveed.

For years, it seemed not one cared about the elephant’s lonely fate as his wounds became infected, as Kaavan slowly drifted to psychosis and obesity, as the chains around his legs slowly left permanent scars.

Volunteers from Four Paws International  (FPI) animal rights group complied a report found “a dry moat with narrow concrete walls; compacted soil, no other natural loose substrate, no trees, logs, bushes, rocks, tires or any other structures.”

By the time FPI arrived in 2016, they found an “aggressively animal suffering from “zoochosis with low locomotive activity,  no explorative or comfort behaviour, advanced stage of stereotypical behaviour of constant bobbing of head and complete indifference to humans, with mild conjunctivitis in left eye, some less pigmented areas on lower legs indicating old chain lesions, several cracked nails and overgrown cuticles. Kaavan was not only sick  wwith worringly overweight as a result of the high sugar diet his keepers fed him”.

Oscar-winning actress and singer, Cher first learned of Kaavan’s plight in 2016, who cofounded Free the  Wild, a wildlife protection charity, hired a legal team to press for the elephant’s freedom. When the court order freeing Kaavan was announced in May, the singer called is one of the “greatest moments” of her life. In the months since, she has highlighted his progress on her Twitter account where she has 3.8 million followers.

The fight for Kaavan and other animals in the zoo finally ended up in Islamabad’s High Court.

Four Paws International was invited to the country for a second time and a new plan was hatched to fly Kaavan across Asia to Cambodia, where he could live out the rest of his years in a protected contact sanctuary.

Dr Amir Khalil, an Egyptian born head of the FPI team stumbled his way into a solution, as he and a colleague had to keep the elephant in another part of the pen requiring them to stand around for hours waiting.

“ So I started to sing, and after sometime, I noticed that the elephant started to get an interest in my voice, which no one loved anyway, so I was embarrassed. But then I was happy to have found a big fan, and I started to sing to him”.

Soon Kaavan could be seen eating  out of Dr Khalil’s hands, hugging him with his trunk as he took a bath at the pond while his new friend sang along one of his favourite songs from the traditional pop era being played on a portable sound system.

Cher who landed in Pakistan on Friday and reportedly met with the Prime minister, Imran Khan, is expected to travel from Pakistan to Kaavan’s new home in Cambodia, the one million acre Kulen-Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary, where volunteers and staff work to protect the natural habitat and house a wide range of endangered species.