A Pakistani court approved the relocation of a lonely and mistreated elephant to Cambodia yesterday after the pachyderm became the subject of a high-profile rights campaign backed by music star Cher.
Kaavan was kept in chains at Islamabad Zoo and exhibited symptoms of mental illness, prompting global outrage over its treatment and a petition demanding its release that garnered over 400,000 signatures.
The capital’s High Court ordered Kaavan’s freedom in May and instructed wildlife officials to find a “suitable sanctuary” for the animal.
Authorities told yesterday hearing that an expert committee had recommended Kaavan be moved to a 25,000-acre wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia for retirement.
“The court has agreed with the proposal,” Anis Ur Rehman, the chairman of Islamabad Wildlife management board, said.
Zoo officials have in the past denied that Kaavan was chained up, instead claiming the elephant was pining for a new mate after its partner died in 2012.
But the animal’s behaviour - including signs of distress such as bobbing its head repeatedly - demonstrated “a kind of mental illness”, Safwan Shahab Ahmad of the Pakistan Wildlife Foundation told AFP in 2016.
Activists also said Kaavan was not properly sheltered from Islamabad’s searing summer temperatures, which can rise above 40 degrees Celsius (100 Fahrenheit).
Kaavan’s plight drew the attention of Cher, who spent years calling for the elephant’s freedom.
She tweeted in May that the court’s decision to order the elephant’s release was “one of the greatest moments of my life”.
Arriving in Pakistan as a one-year-old in 1985 from Sri Lanka, Kaavan was temporarily held in chains in 2002 because zookeepers were concerned about increasingly violent tendencies.
The elephant was freed later that year after an outcry but it emerged in 2015 that the animal was once more being regularly chained for several hours each day.
Minister Malik Amin Aslam said authorities would “free this elephant with a kind heart, and will ensure that it lives a happy life”.
The court’s May ruling also ordered dozens of other animals - including brown bears, lions and birds - to be relocated temporarily while the zoo improves its standards.
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