Pakistan’s last Asian elephant to ‘retire’ in Cambodia after global campaign

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A team of wildlife workers and animal experts began the process of airlifting Pakistan’s only Asian elephant, Kaavan on Sunday morning. He will be transported to northwestern Cambodia, where he will call a sanctuary his new home. Dubbed the ‘world’s loneliest elephant’ by the media, the 36-year-old pachyderm had been kept at Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad under substandard conditions and pitiful treatment, shackled for 17 years. He arrived there as a baby when he was gifted to Pakistan by Sri Lanka in 1985.

Animal rescue organisation Four Paws has been leading the efforts. Working with local wildlife workers and experts, Four Paws used a winch and rope to pull a sedated Kaavan into a specially designed crate weighing over 10 tons. The crate was then lifted out of the enclosure and onto a truck using a crane. Kaavan’s crate was then escorted by a military envoy to Islamabad airport. The elephant will be transported on a Russian jumbo jet, which will stop for refuelling at New Delhi before reaching the destination city of Siem Reap in Cambodia. His handlers are carrying around 200 kilograms of fruits for him to munch on during his long journey.

Kavaan has been the only Asian elephant in Pakistan since 2012, when his companion, a female called Saheli passed away. Claims of poor treatment made by activists were dismissed by the Marghazar zoo authorities, who said that Kavaan was only lonely since his friend’s passing. Upon examination by veterinarians, it was observed that Kavaan showed signs of distress, which raised concern about his mental wellbeing.

American actress and singer Cher has been campaigning to free Kaavan with other animal activists since 2016. She is working on a documentary covering Kaavan’s rescue operations with the Smithsonian Institution and her charity, Free The Wild. Following global outcry, a judge ordered Kaavan and all other animals at the zoo to be moved out.

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