For over three decades, Pakistan's only Asian elephant has been confined to an inadequate enclosure at the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad, Pakistan. At just a year old, he was given as a gift from the Sri Lankan government to the government of Pakistan in 1985 in order to build relations between the two countries. At six years old, Kaavan was joined by a mate, elephant Saheli from Bangladesh. The two elephants spent the next 22 years together, until tragically, Saheli developed an infection from the cuts caused by her chains and died in 2012.
Deeply affected by the death of his life companion, Kaavan showed signs of stress and aggression and caretakers of the zoo struggled to keep the large elephant under control. Chained in isolation and poor conditions, Kaavan became the worlds loneliest elephant.
However, while Kaavan was isolated and suffering, a student in Pakistan, Dr. Samar Khan, heard about the elephant. Dr. Khan was then joined by a large community of Pakistani's to share Kaavan's plight, which triggered the start of a long fight to free him from his misery! American superstar, Cher and her organization, Free The Wild, also began campaigning to help Kaavan. Finally, in 2020, the Islamabad High Court issued a decision for the immediate relocation of all the animals, and FOUR PAWS was asked to step in.
Thanks to the quick response of American businessman Eric Margolis, a long time FOUR PAWS supporter, FOUR PAWS was able to take over this huge challenge.
How to prepare Kaavan for his transport into a new life
Led by FOUR PAWS veterinarian, Dr. Amir Khalil, our team traveled to Pakistan to begin the planning of the animals' relocations. Together with the help of the Pakistani community, the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB), American businessman Eric Margolis and Free The Wild, we wanted to transport the elephant to a sanctuary in Cambodia. However, moving an extremely heavy animal is no simple task and the months of organization and training for Kaavan began!
A specially made crate was designed and constructed for the elephant, who weighs 4.35 tons (8,700 pounds). When the training crate arrived in Kaavan's enclosure, it was an amazing sight – it was as if he knew it was taking him to a better place! Dr. Khalil and his team, including an elephant trainer, spent long hours with Kaavan, developing trust and a bond, along with daily positive training with him and the training crate, so that Kaavan felt comfortable entering the crate and ready for his transfer.
FOUR PAWS and most especially the team in Pakistan would like to thank all of you who have supported and believed in our work. We also want to give a special thanks to Eric Margolis, whom without his unwavering support, we would not have been able to even consider accomplishing this huge task.
The start of a new life has begun!
November 29, 2020
With Kaavan's rescue day finally here, the excitement and energy for this huge mission was felt not only on-site but by supporters throughout the world as they watched this thrilling and challenging mission take place!
Cher was also on-site to cheer the elephant on, and she sang to Kaavan as the final preparations for the transport were underway. The training crate was moved into Kaavan's enclosure, where the training paid off as Kaavan safely walked into the crate for the very last time. And as the crate left the zoo with Kaavan inside - for the first time in 35 years, Kaavan's enclosure in the Marghazar Zoo was finally empty!
The team transferred him to the airport, where the loneliest elephant in the world was loaded onto an airplane in Islamabad. Together with the team on-site, Dr Frank Goeritz, head veterinarian at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, and Dr Amir Khalil were right by Kaavan's side throughout the whole trip to support him. Our partner Free The Wild and US-superstar Cher were awaiting the elephant in Cambodia.
“Kaavan was eating, was not stressed, and he even slept a little bit whilst leaning on the wall of the crate! He behaves like a ‘Frequent Flyer’. The flight was uneventful, which is all you can ask for when you transfer an elephant!"
Dr. Amir Khalil, FOUR PAWS veterinarian and rescue mission leader.
The worlds loneliest elephant no more - Kaavan's arrival in Cambodia
Following the long journey from Pakistan, Kaavan was able to leave his transport crate and enjoyed a warm welcome with a juicy fruitcake and a trail of banana tree leaves made especially for him.
Then came a very special moment for Kaavan and everyone who has followed his journey: after eight long and lonely years, Kaavan had his first interaction with another elephant! Kaavan will now finally have the chance to live a species-appropriate and peaceful life.
December 3, 2020
After eight long years, Kaavan is finally able to interact with other elephants again. In his new home in Cambodia, he is slowly getting to know the other giants in the neighboring enclosure. Of course, he still needs time to fully get used to his new surroundings. We can only imagine how overwhelming this time must be for him. But we are hopeful and already seeing the first positive changes in him.
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