After waiting for more than 35 years, Kaavan is no longer world’s loneliest elephant. The animal was kept in the Marghuzar Zoo in Islamabad. Although the zoo was built just seven years ago, not once its owners and the authorities behind it has cared even a bit about the well-being of the poor animals kept there. One of these miserable animals was Kaavan, brought in from Sri Lanka during the military rule of Zia Ul Haq.
Kaavan’s misery could be distinctly seen by anybody who visited the zoo, heedlessly swinging its head from side to side, as the visitors went by. Kaavan’s job was no more than to just stand at the fence to entertain the crowds during opening hours, raise his trunk as a begging bowl when his mahout, or handler, prodded him with a bullhook, passing him the money the crowd gave him. At nights, Kaavan spent most of his time inside a small, half-acre enclosure containing a hut with a concrete floor. When volunteers from Four Paws International (FPI) animal rights group compiled a report later, they 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”. Other than that, another volunteer group called The Friends Of Islamabad Zoom (FIZ) held a few surveys at the zoo and found out that many animals said to be present at the zoo were nowhere to be found. That was not the only thing the group discovered.
“There is no veterinary facility, and no medical supplies in the zoo,” Mohammad bin Naveed, a FIZ volunteer, says. “There’s 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.”
Despite all these intolerable circumstances, Kaavan still had a form of support he found in one of his own – a female elephant called ‘Saheli’ or ‘Friend’. Saheli was brought in from Bangladesh in the early 1990s. The need for a companion, a source of support is a very important aspect for an elephant, just like humans. Wildlife experts say elephants are cognitively sophisticated and very sensitive beings, they have nearly the same life span – between 60 to 70 years in the wild – and have similar emotions, and needs for bonding with another of their kind. Similarly, they also mourn the dead. Which is exactly what this poor animal had to go through. Saheli died in 2012. The official version of events is that she died of a heart attack due to the hot weather, but Mohammad bin Naveed, the FIZ volunteer, alleges it was actually sepsis.” At some point, the unsterilized nails of the mahout’s bullhook went too far into her skin. She got gangrene and died of a septic shock. Everyone knows this, but won’t admit it,” he says. The body of Saheli stayed at the same spot for days, where Kaavan helplessly watched the only friend he had lay lifelessly. After that, Kaavan became very aggressive, and wouldn’t let anybody come near him.
The animal suffered from “zoochosis”. He had “low locomotive activity, no explorative or comfort behavior, advanced stage of stereotypical behavior (constant bobbing of head)” and complete indifference to humans, “except some begging”.His physical condition was also deteriorating, FPI said, finding “mild conjunctivitis in the left eye, some less pigmented areas on lower legs indicating old chain lesions, several cracked nails, and overgrown cuticles”.
When nobody from Pakistan came to the aid of this helpless animal, his pleas were finally heard from someone abroad. Cher and the American singer finally came to Kaavan’s help and rescued the animal. She first learned of Kaavan’s plight in 2016. The Oscar-winning actress and singer, who co-founded Free the Wild, a wildlife protection charity, hired a legal team to press for the elephant’s freedom, and finally became successful. She labeled this moment “ One of the greatest moments “ of her entire life.
Kavalan was to be transferred to a Wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia, where he would live for the rest of his life, freely. During his flight, the elephant reportedly ate 200 kilograms of snacks and took a nap. “He behaves like a frequent flier. The flight was uneventful, which is all you can ask for when you transfer an elephant,” Amir Khalil, a veterinarian for the animal rescue group that accompanied Kaavan on the flight, according to AP. The vet works for the Vienna, Austria-based Four Paws animal rescue group, which organized the 36-year-old pachyderm’s rescue. Finally, on 30th November 2020, Kaavan landed in Cambodia, a place he could finally call ‘home’. Kaavan was welcomed to Cambodia by chanting Buddhist monks and sent on his way to a wildlife sanctuary. The World’s Loneliest Elephant Is Finally Meeting New Friends After 8 Years in Solitude and hopefully will spend the rest of his days in peace and harmony.