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Web Desk
November 28, 2020

How Kaavan will be taken to Cambodia, his new home


Web Desk
Sat, Nov 28, 2020
Kaavan, waiting to be transported to a sanctuary in Cambodia, is seen during a farewell ceremony at the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad, Pakistan November 23, 2020. — Reuters/Saiyna Bashir

The "world's loneliest elephant", Kaavan, will moving from Islamabad to Cambodia on Sunday.

According to non-profit National Public Radio, Kaavan will be relocated to an animal sanctuary in Cambodia, where he will be able to socialise with other elephants.

The elephant had been languishing in Islamabad's Marghazar Zoo for 35 years, most of them in chains. He lost his partner Saheli in 2012 after she died from a gangrenous infection.

Dr Amir Khalil, veterinarian with Four Paws — an Austria-based animal welfare group spearheading the collaborative operation to transport the 5-ton elephant — said Kaavan was heartbroken after Saheli died.

Elephant Kaavan stands facing a wall in his enclosure at the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad, Pakistan, July 18, 2020. AFP/Aamir Qureshi/Files

Activists dubbed him the “world’s loneliest elephant” after his plight gained international attention and the unhappy elephant was diagnosed as emotionally as well as physically damaged. He was also diagnosed by veterinarians as malnourished and overweight.

The Islamabad High Court ruled in May that the animals kept in Marghazar Zoo were held in cruel conditions and the zoo should be closed. In July, the court approved the plan to move Kaavan to Cambodia.

American singer Cher took up Kaavan’s cause and has been a loud voice advocating for his resettlement. She paid him a visit on Friday and thanked Prime Minister Imran Khan for making his relocation possible.

Kaavan's travel arrangements

Four Paws, which often carries out animal rescue missions, will accompany Kaavan to the sanctuary.

"Transferring an adult elephant on a plane is something very, very rare," said Four Paws spokesperson Martin Bauer, explaining that in his experience transfers have been over much shorter distances, between zoos in the US.

"An elephant transfer by plane on this scale I think has never happened before, so we are writing history here," he told NPR.

The last three months have been spent preparing Kaavan for the journey.

Bauer on Friday said that "everything is going according to plan" for Kaavan.

"He's doing well. He was very cooperative — because elephants can be quite stubborn — but he showed good will. And he's a good boy. And yes, all is fine and it looks very promising that we can leave Pakistan on Sunday."

According to NPR, Kaavan will be put on board a cargo plane after being loaded into a crate, built especially for him.

An artist from Fankar Café studio painting a crate at the Marghazar Zoo to be used for Kaavan the elephant’s relocation to Cambodia. — Online photo by Sultan Bashir

Bauer said he will remain conscious for the entire 10-hour flight, with a group of veterinarians also with him.

After the plane lands, the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary is an hour-and-a-half away by car.

Days ahead

Once Kaavan settles in, he will have three female elephants to keep him company. It's "the best hope for him," Bauer said.

"The goal is to socialise him. It will take a while because he has lived on his own for such a long time. But yes, ultimately the goal is to bring him together with other animals because that's what elephants want. They're herd animals, they always form families, and that's also what we plan for him."