Elephant Kaavan will finally start his new life in Cambodia

Veterinarian Amir Khalil with Kaavan in his crate, photo: Four Paws / Hristo Vladev
Veterinarian Amir Khalil with Kaavan in his crate, photo: Four Paws / Hristo Vladev

Pakistan’s lonely elephant Kaavan arrived in Cambodia by cargo plane on Monday. He will start a new life with elephant friends at the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary in Siem Reap.

The 36-year-old Kaavan was the only Asian elephant in Pakistan. He had been living at Islamabad zoo for 35 years, the last eight years completely alone. Pictures of him in chains, and videos where he showed mental illness, caused global outrage.

After many pleas from animal rights organizations, Pakistan approved the relocation of Kaavan to a sanctuary in Cambodia. But getting an elephant that weighs 4800 kilograms (10,582 pounds) by plane to Cambodia requires a lot of effort.

Vets and experts from the animal welfare organization Four Paws spent months working with Kaavan to get him ready for the trip to Cambodia. Three times a day, the team practiced with Kaavan to enter and exit the metal crate safely.

“Kaavan was eating, was not stressed, he was even a little bit sleeping, standing leaning at the crate wall. The flight was uneventful, which is all you can ask for when you transfer an elephant,” said veterinarian Amir Khalil from Four Paws.

“In his case, it not only took a village but a whole country to transfer Kaavan to Cambodia,” Khalil said.

“Without the support of the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board, the Pakistani authorities and the local community, American businessman Eric S. Margolis as well as our partners from Free The Wild, this relocation would not have been possible,” he continued.

They took more than 200 kg (441 pounds) of food, including bananas and melons, to keep him busy on his journey.

From the airport, it was a 90-minute drive to the sanctuary, where Kaavan will be released in daylight on Tuesday.

The American singer Cher who was part of getting Kaavan free went to visit him in Pakistan and was there when he arrived at the airport in Cambodia.

For Four Paws, the rescue of Kaavan was their first elephant transfer by air. Worldwide, only a handful of adult elephants have been relocated by plane. He was transported in an Ilyushin Il-76, a Russian transport aircraft.

Kaavan was fully conscious during the approximately ten-hour flight from Pakistan to Cambodia, with a stopover in India.

Two bears, a deer and a monkey left at the zoo
With Kaavan gone, almost all the animals at Islamabad Zoo have been relocated. Only the two Himalayan brown bears Suzie and Bubloo, a deer and a monkey are still at the zoo.

Four Paws plans to bring the bears, who were used as dancing bears, to a sanctuary in Jordan. Solutions for the remaining monkey and deer are being finalized.

Islamabad Zoo, previously Marghazar Zoo, opened in 1978. The zoo has been owned by the Pakistani capital Islamabad since its opening.

The zoo repeatedly made headlines because of its poor keeping conditions. In July, shocking videos of two lions fighting a fire in their small enclosure appeared. Both big cats died because of smoke inhalation.

According to Four Paws, over 500 zoo animals have been reported missing in recent years, and in the last four years alone, over two dozen animals have died at the zoo.

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