26 November 2021 – Last year, the story of elephant Kaavan moved the whole world: In November 2020, global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS together with the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB), the national authorities and pop icon Cher, rescued him from a sad and lonely life at a rundown zoo in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad. Prior to his rescue, the 36-year-old former ‘loneliest elephant in the world’ spent eight years by himself.
30 November marks the first anniversary of FOUR PAWS transferring heavyweight Kaavan to Siem Reap via plane. Kaavan is now thriving in his new home at Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary (CWS), living an elephant-worthy life. Moreover, Kaavan’s legacy protects other elephants from suffering the same fate, as Pakistan has recently banned the import of elephants into the country.
“35 years in captivity causes a lot of trauma but Kaavan is making great progress, roaming around his spacious jungle enclosure and enjoying baths in his pond. Back in the zoo in Pakistan, he was showing severe behavioural problems, shaking his head and pacing back and forth in the dreary enclosure. He has re-discovered his natural instincts and can enjoy having other elephants around. Kaavan is living the life he deserves. I’m looking forward to visiting him as soon as possible to see for myself what a difference the last year made.”
Dr Amir Khalil, FOUR PAWS veterinarian who led Kaavan’s rescue mission and formed a special bond with the elephant.
While Kaavan has not yet been socialised with other elephants, the team at CWS continues to monitor his development and will determine if he becomes interested in having a companion. Until then, neighbouring enclosures allow for the elephants to get used to each other’s smell and touch each other’s trunks, a friendly gesture.
Kaavan’s legacy: Pakistan bans elephant imports
In September 2021 the Islamabad High Court announced a ban on the import of new elephants into the country. This decision followed FOUR PAWS advising the Ministry of Climate Change to not allow any new elephants coming to Pakistan as there are no places with species-appropriate living conditions for elephants.
Originally arriving in Pakistan as a gift from Sri Lanka in 1985, five years later Kaavan was joined by his partner Sahel. But since her death in 2012, Kaavan lived a lonely existence as the last Asian elephant in captivity in Pakistan. In May 2020, the Islamabad High Court decided that all animals living in Islamabad Zoo had to be relocated to sanctuaries, leading not only to the rescue of Kaavan but 38 other animals that FOUR PAWS relocated to species-appropriate new homes.
An extraordinary elephant rescue
Kaavan’s historic transfer was implemented by FOUR PAWS in cooperation with the Pakistani authorities and with support from Cher. It was made possible by the generous support of American businessman Eric S. Margolis, who funded Kaavan’s flight to Cambodia.
To prepare Kaavan for his departure, the FOUR PAWS team practiced with him the safe and stress-free entry and exit into and from the transport crate. Dr Khalil also used creative methods to keep Kaavan calm by serenading the elephant with Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’. Worldwide, only a handful of adult elephants have been relocated by plane. For FOUR PAWS it was the first elephant air transfer.
“Kaavan’s rescue was an extraordinary experience. We transferred an elephant from Pakistan to Cambodia during a global pandemic, together with Cher – I’m proud we were part of this truly unique story,” says Dr Khalil.