Kaavan, the elephant, leaves his chains behind
Kavaan, the elephant, has finally returned to the wild. Monday last was a very busy day for national and international media in Islamabad. After almost two years of hectic efforts by animal rights activists, the elephant, whom international media had been describing as the “loneliest” in the world, was sent to a sanctuary in Cambodia.
US singer Cher started the initiative to rescue Kavaan from his chains. On October 7, 2017, she formed her organization, Free the Wild, after seeing the elephant in chains in Islamabad’s Marghzar Zoo.
International initiatives aside, local developments were also dramatic. A case was filed in the Islamabad High Court.
At the same time, the federal capital was witnessing political upheaval. Ali Nawaz Awan, an opposition leader in the city’s first ever local government formed in 2015, became a powerful advisor to the PM looking after the city’s affairs.
He was among the very first people to allege corruption in Municipal Corporation of Islamabad (MCI), which was running the zoo.
After corruption charges were levelled against the city’s first mayor, Sheikh Ansar, the federal cabinet placed the zoo under the Ministry of Climate Change. The ministry assigned the task to the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB).
The then board chairman, Dr Anisur Rehman, appeared before the IHC and suggested that the animals no sanctuary in Pakistan could accommodate may be transported to other countries.
Accordingly, two Himalayan bears were transported to a sanctuary in Jordan. The IHC appointed Dr Aamir Khalil, head of the Four Paws team treating Kavaan and other animals in the zoo, as a friend of the court in this case.
Dr Khalil told the court Kavaan’s condition was not ideal but he could be transported to the elephant sanctuary in Cambodia. The court finally ordered the ministry to do the needful to save the elephant.
After corruption charges were levelled against the city’s first mayor, Sheikh Ansar, the federal cabinet placed the zoo under the Ministry of Climate Change. The ministry assigned the task to the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB) to bring some positive changes to the zoo.
Friends of Islamabad Zoo, a group of Islamabad-based volunteers, posted the minutest of details about the elephant on social media.
Though the zoo had been closed to the public, these volunteers visited the elephant every day. They included Hasnain, an award-winning documentary-maker.
Cher and her Free the Wild team and Four Paws helped keep the issue alive in the media.
The PM’s advisor on climate change and Senator Faisal Javed took it upon themselves to hold a media event at the Zoo on Monday to see off Kavaan.
Cher was absent due to security reasons and corona fears. She had visited the zoo on Sunday and met the prime minister a day earlier. At the zoo, Cher’s staff told people she did not like media attention and requested the camera crews not to film her.
Cher was there in Cambodia to welcome Kaavan at the airport when the cargo plane touched down. According to the US embassy: “Thanks to the multi-year campaign led by @Cher with help from FOUR PAWS USA & cooperation with the Government of Pakistan, we saw Kaavan safely arrive to his new home in Cambodia! Ensuring animal welfare & protecting endangered species is a global responsibility. #freekaavan #USPAK”.
The Norwegian ambassador tweeted: “Hope Kaavan is safe and sound in Cambodia. Meanwhile, he has become an international celebrity.” Government officials in Cambodia have been constantly releasing updates on Kaavan’s condition at the 80-acre sanctuary. He is now in the company of other elephants and returning to normal life.
The writer studies and teaches media. He can be reached on Twitter at @furraat