At the age of just one, Kaavan the elephant was taken from Siri Lanka and brought to the Marghazar zoo in Pakistan. And since then, Kaavan has never known what the world outside his small enclosure was like and lived for 35 years in a 100 by 150-yard (90 by 140-metre) pen, his only shelter.
The story of Kaavan caught the attention of animal activists across the world and those who supported him called the elephant the “world’s loneliest elephant.” Seeing the gentle giant being forced to live a lonely life rather than roam free with creatures of his own sparked an outcry from activists who lobbied for his transfer to a better home.
Kaavan is no stranger to being chained after he was brought to the zoo in 1985. In 1990, he did have a companion named Saheli but after his mate passed away in 2012, the elephant was forced to be alone and spent his days having nothing to do. According to Al Jazeera, Kaavan was regularly being put in chains since 2015.
Along with the cruel treatment of being enchained, there was also the mental torment that the elephant suffered. Kaavan started showing signs of depression and mental distress and would regularly be swaying and bobbing his head which shows “a kind of mental illness,” said the vice chairman of Pakistan Wildlife Foundation, Safwan Shahab Ahmad who has been observing the elephant for about three decades, as reported by Mirror.
“I have hardly seen him happy,” said Mohammad Jalal, the elephant’s keeper.
After three and a half decades of living in the zoo, and having spent the last eight years with no companion, the plight of Kaavan is similar to that of many animals that are captured from the wild and chained in zoo enclosures till the day they die.
While most humans seem obviously ignorant to the plight of animals, there are, however, still a few who will fight for their freedom. The outcry over the treatment of Kaavan by animal rights activists incited a legal response. in May 2020, Pakistan’s high court recognized the negligence of the zoo as well as the poor conditions the animals were kept in. An order was issued for the closure of the Marghazar zoo after animal activists added to the pressure of freeing Kaavan and the other animals. Even singer Cher spoke in favor of Kaavan being sent to a new home and called it “one of the greatest moments of my life” when she heard he would be free.
Following the news of Kaavan’s release, Mark Cowne who co-founded the organization Free The Wild with Cher, told Al Jazeera, “It’s so exciting. It’s remarkable… We were concerned about his mental health, he was in a very bad condition. We really wanted to help him. He had been through a terrible time, locked up for 26 years, chained up for all that time.”
When a medical examination was conducted to check and ensure that Kaavan was fit to travel to his new home, the vets were able to see the effects that years of living in an unsuitable enclosure had on him. The flooring had damaged his feet and left his nails cracked and overgrown. Despite being overweight, the elephant was also malnourished, as reported by The Guardian.
Martin Bauer, a spokesman for Four Paws, the organization invited to help transfer the elephant, said, “He also developed stereotypical behaviour, which means he shakes his head back and forth for hours. This is mainly because he is simply bored.”
Although Kaavan will take a while to fully recover from the physical and mental toll that the solitary life had on him, he was deemed to be fit to travel after the medical examination. Most likely, it would be a sanctuary in Cambodia that will become his new home and hopefully, will find a new family there.
Bauer added, “Following the checks, which confirmed Kaavan is strong enough, steps will now be taken to finalise his relocation to an animal sanctuary potentially in Cambodia.”