All set to fly

November 1, 2020

Kavaan is waiting for a green signal from the government to make a new beginning in Cambodia

Kavaan giving himself a dust bath — Photo by Syed Hasnan Raza

Kavaan is giving himself a glorious dust bath, spraying dust all over his body with his trunk. The crate in which he will be flown to Cambodia is ready.

He will finally be leaving the narrow enclave where he spent 35 years of the average expected 45-year life span of his species.

The Four Paws team have taken his measurements using various tools to make sure that his crate is comfortable for the journey. Ironically, the crate has been decorated with Pakistani truck art.

“It has been an honour for me to be declared a friend of the court (by Islamabad High Court) in the case of Marghazar Zoo,” Dr Amir Khalil, the leader of Four Paws team that has treated most of the ailing animals at the zoo, tells The News on Sunday (TNS).

In the afternoon he reaches the zoo and goes straight to Kavaan for his treatment. “Kavaan has developed an emotional bond with me. We are forbidden to develop such bonds with animals we rescue; but in the case of Kavaan it has happened,” he says.

Asked why, he replies, “When I first came here, I needed to keep him away from the new construction going on in his enclave. Sitting with him, I saw his tears. It was for the first time in my 30-year career of dealing with animals that this happened”.

“I was sympathetic towards him and I think he realised that,” he adds.

On social media, Free the Wild, and Four Paws have been repeatedly issuing calls for donations to build Kavaan’s new house (estimated to cost $50,000).

The good thing is fund raising is not seen as a big challenge.

“Pakistanis are the major donors. Everything is done by Pakistanis. The whole campaign was started by Pakistanis. They arrange for food and other needs of these animals. Free the Wild and Four Paws are only assisting them in this effort,” he says.

Dr Amir had to leave for Beirut about two months after treating Kavaan and has returned now after about three weeks during which time his team continued treating Kavaan.

“It is good that Kavaan has forgiven me for this prolonged absence. When I came back, he engaged with me and did not banish me to the walls,” he says.

Asked about the music he plays and songs he sings for the elephant, he says he sings because Kavaan likes it.

Dr Amir says that the crate has been designed in an elephant-friendly manner; it is open on the sides and above. “We will prep Kavaan with practice for four weeks – he will learn to go in and come out of the crate. It is like a military mission. Imagine if the crate is put in the enclave and one of the biggest animals on the planet starts playing with it like a big toy,” he says.

He says that he is looking for a competent and professional transporter to bring the crate and then take it back to the plane.

“I have examined the crate after my return, and it needs some modifications,” he says.

The Ministry of Climate Change has also issued an export permit for Himalayan bears and they will be transported to a sanctuary for bears on November 12 or 13, he adds.

Kavaan will be shifted to Cambodia in the last week of November as the Ministry has not yet issued an export permit.

With Kavaan and the bears gone from the Margazhar Zoo in a few weeks from now, there will be time for reflection.

Syed Hasnain Raza, an award-winning documentary maker, has become a permanent feature at the zoo. He says the concept of zoos has become almost extinct in the modern world. Zoos should not operate and if they really have to, then it should be kept in mind that animals cannot be kept in cages.

“There are some animals that need a lot of space to move around and live healthy; they cannot be caged. The money earned from zoos should be spent on conservation of animals,” he says.

“Personally, I am happy that the animals are being taken to livable places. I do not like cages and have not even kept birds in cages at my house,” says Muhammad Hamza Shafqaat, the Islamabad deputy commissioner.

He says government processes are lengthy as they involve several departments and many animals cannot endure long delays.

He says in the place of the zoo, a theme park could be built in the future.

“Now that this facility is with the Capital Development Authority (CDA), it can be hoped that something good might come out of it. The civic body has the talent and the money to do it,” he says.

The staff with the climate change advisor, minister and secretary did not respond to questions on the matter despite repeated attempts by this scribe.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s tweet, made back in 2015, about bringing Kavaan to a place with livable conditions has attracted criticism in recent times. Critics say it is about time that Kavaan got relief.

Zubair Qureshi, a journalist following the issue, hopes that the Marghazar Zoo fraternity will now get down to freeing animals from other zoos.

The writer studies and teaches media. He can be reached on Twitter at @furraat

Elephant Kaavan: All set to fly