The last elephant: Kaavan’s sad existence draws global outcry

Published: September 4, 2015
The elephant is thought to have become depressed after the death of Saheli. PHOTO: EXPRESS

The elephant is thought to have become depressed after the death of Saheli. PHOTO: EXPRESS

ISLAMABAD: Over 27,000 animal lovers from across the globe have so far signed an online petition demanding the capital’s civic agency to unchain and free an elephant kept at the city zoo under deplorable conditions.

The 31-year-old Asian elephant, “Kaavan”, has been kept in solitary confinement and chained around his legs since his long-term companion Saheli – a female elephant gifted by the government of Bangladesh in early 90s to Pakistan – died in May 2012. Kaavan was brought from Sri Lanka in 1985 when he was one years old.

The elephant is thought to have become depressed after the death of Saheli. To cater to the issue, the zoo management thought it better to chain all his four legs instead of providing the elephant medical treatment or to find him a companion.

Animal lovers and rights activists have voiced series concerns over the state-of-affairs at the Islamabad Zoo, officially known as Marghazar Zoo.

The issue first caught attention of an American national of Pakistani-origin Zareen Khan, who was on a visit to the federal capital a couple of weeks ago.

Seeing the miserable condition of the poor elephant, she decided to raise her voice for the animal by starting an online campaign.

Khan wrote in the petition she was astonished and sad to see the elephant standing at one place throughout the 45 minutes she spent at the zoo.

“His legs were all chained up. He was moving his head from left to right continuously and not once I saw that he stopped…. the first thought that came to my mind was that he was drugged,” Khan narrated what she saw.

She said that the elephant kept standing at the same place without moving his legs and the only thing that was moving in his body was his head, left to right.

“It was a pitiful sight,” she wrote, demanding animal lovers to urge the authorities to phase out their elephant exhibit and send Kaavan to an elephant sanctuary abroad.

A little relief for Kaavan

Seeing the mounting pressure and a series of emails and telephone calls received by the city managers in this connection, on Thursday the zoo management removed chains from two of Kaavan’s legs.

“This is cruel beyond words. No freedom, no family, no compassion, absolutely nothing to make his life happy. This is totally disgraceful,” commented Vanessa Marshall from the United Kingdom on the petition.

A Facebook page run by the CDA remained abuzz with a number of posts in favour of Kaavan and against the management of the CDA.

On Thursday, as a response the CDA management uploaded two videos of the elephant showing his unchained legs and the elephant taking rounds of the enclosure with his handler. However, a visit to the zoo made by The Express Tribune in the evening showed that two of his legs were still chained.

“The situation is very wrongly portrayed in the social media. The male elephant is healthy, taking its food and bath daily,” said an official statement released by the CDA on social media.

The statement claimed that the chaining of elephant in captivity for a brief time was a practice and part of management by many zoos around the world.

The statement assured that “the administration is trying its best to completely stop the chaining practices, which have been adopted for the reason mentioned above during day time.”

Published in The Express Tribune, September 4th, 2015.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (20)

  • Zareen Khan
    Sep 4, 2015 - 10:28AM

    CDA is putting up a show to pacify public. Initially they agreed on their Facebook page to send
    Kaavan to a sanctuary and asked for volunteers (I have a screenshot of their status). Soon after, they denied this status and posted a fake video of Kaavan. Sadly as soon as public attention is diverted, Kaavan will get chained again. Large wild animals should not spend their entire life in such captivity. Thank you for giving a voice to Kaavan!!Recommend

  • Akbar Sait
    Sep 4, 2015 - 12:57PM

    The elephant’s physical and emotional welfare is the most important matter here. Secondarily Pakistan does not need any more bad publicity.Recommend

  • Activist
    Sep 4, 2015 - 2:37PM

    Elephants are mammals and are not solitary in nature. Keeping this giant for long like this can be dangerous for people visiting the zoo as well as the zoo keepers. There needs to be taken care that the partner brought in is not aggressive in nature. Care should be taken. Recommend

  • Animal Advocate
    Sep 5, 2015 - 12:38AM

    It’s about time Kaavan is given freedom he so badly needs.
    CDA Islamabad initially posted a statement that they would release the animal. Print shot of that post is getting circulated on the internet. 1000s of people acknolwedged CDA Islamabad. Very next day they turned around and deleted that post and uploaded 2 videos. Kaavan can barely walk 2 steps from his enclosure.
    Please release him to a sanctuary. CDA Islamabad show some humanity. It is cruel to keep anyone chained let alone an animal for 28 years in one place. It’s about time.
    Kindly contact Born Free US/UK, Elephant Sanctuary, Animal Defenders International. Please do what a good human would do.
    What’s going on is a cruelty. This petition has grown to 27000 signatures in less than 3 days. Recommend

  • Ze Sher
    Sep 5, 2015 - 10:46AM

    The footage WE HAVE ALL SEEN and reports WE HAVE READ are clearly obvious. KAVAAN is not in good hands point blank. One does not need to be an elephant expert, zooligist nor Veternarian to see that this elephant is in need of better treatment such as retirement to a REAL SANCTUARY. What total bogus videos they deployed after the accusations made upon them. Shady, sneaky, greedy humans. Shame on them..Recommend

  • shireen gheba
    Sep 6, 2015 - 7:56AM

    I visited the Islamabad zoo a week ago, I saw the elephant was in one position….. Which means he was chained. If needed, I can go and check again and bring photos….Recommend

  • Jasmin
    Sep 10, 2015 - 1:51AM

    Is there no way to have the elephant transferred to a more social environment at a different zoo? I wouldn’t trust these people with a used tea bag, much less additional elephants.It is beyond me that such cruelty isn’t turned on its head immediately once exposed. Recommend

  • Monika Sharma
    Sep 10, 2015 - 2:06AM

    What sort of monsters can do this to this amazing animals Recommend

  • Mia
    Sep 10, 2015 - 7:29AM

    Free Kaavan and all elephants like him! We demand that Pakistani zoos as well as all other Zoos respect animals rights and give a decent life to animals. In fact, zoos should not exist because animals in captivity should not exist! All animals have the right to be free ! Recommend

  • Peggy
    Sep 10, 2015 - 8:58AM

    It is outrageous that any animal should be chained, immobile. Free this elephant!!!! If not then you should be chained, all 4 limbs in a standing position. After a week of sailing yourself & being unable to move you may change your minds.
    I live in Grand Junction, CO. USARecommend

  • Apryl Whitten
    Sep 11, 2015 - 1:22AM

    This horrific abuse and torture has got to stop. Please do the right thing and transfer this creature to a sanctuary to live out the rest of his life in peace. The world sees your treatment of this animal and believes that it wrong. We will not stop until he is free.Recommend

  • Cathy Jones
    Sep 11, 2015 - 1:39PM

    The video posted by Zareen says it all – it is unspeakably cruel to deny such a social, sentient being such as an elephant in chains for ANY reason, no matter how well justified.
    All in the name of entertainment and money.
    Done by those so-called human beings who regard an animal as ‘just a thing’.
    Elephants are truly family oriented and remember for their whole lifetimes.
    However, I only came across this by chance on Facebook.
    Zareen – have you or anyone else been in touch with the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos or ADI? I can help if needed. Do they know about this?
    And finally, WELL DONE for doing something about it and not just being a spectator :)Recommend

  • naheed
    Sep 19, 2015 - 11:10AM

    set him free……that poor guy Recommend

  • Carey
    Sep 25, 2015 - 2:55AM

    Elephants as Zoo exhibits around the world need to end. Of many tragic cases, this is up there with some of the worst, Kaavan has made a great deal of money in his 28 years of captivity, it would be the morally correct thing to allow him to go to a sanctuary, where he can slowly heal his physical and mental unwellness, and when he is ready, to socialise with others of his own kind. An elephant is not an elephant unless it is free to roam, to eat its normal varied diet, and socialise with other elephants in the natural way. The CDA would get great kudos for ordering this, and it would be such a little thing for them to do. Concern for him also concern for public safety should Kaavan escape from the inadequate enclosure at the zoo, which he has done before, and apparently was the reason he was chained 24/7. He must be safe, and people must be safe too.Recommend

  • zareen
    Oct 2, 2015 - 5:25AM

    @shireen gheba:
    Please do send us pictures and videos of Kaavan on Facebook at Free Kaavan the Elephant.
    Thanks a bunch!Recommend

  • zareen
    Oct 2, 2015 - 5:28AM

    @Cathy Jones:
    Hi Cathy: Yes we know about it and will be participating in a world wide protest for Kaavan. We spoke to the organizers and they said they cannot support any specific elephant. Also we had 4paws, a British sanctuary in Myanmar, send a formal letter to CDA that they will bear all the cost for transporting Kaavan if CDA decides to send Kaavan. We need to keep the pressure on.Recommend

  • Susan Alter
    Nov 12, 2015 - 10:40PM

    Abuse of any species by humanity is a travesty. All species on this planet are a part of the ‘Web of Life”. All have their place on this Earth. They are not for humans to use as they see fit. We need to grow into the terms humane and humanitarian. We as humans owe it to all species and ourselves to protect all life.Recommend

  • Carey Ostrer
    Nov 12, 2015 - 11:50PM

    It is now the 12 November, many meetings have now been had with the CDA about Kaavan, Zareen’s original highlighting of this elephant’s terrible condition has gained world attention, Free Kaavan the Elephant Facebook public community group has acted to negotiate with a PAWS run sanctuary who has offered Kaavan a place there, as well as offering to pay all relocation costs. The Help Welfare Organisation’s volunteers in Islamabad have also stepped in, and are regularly videoing Kaavan and posting on Facebook. Why is this taking so long? Why wont the CDA do the right thing and allow this elephant to go to be properly cared for at the sanctuary that has offered to take him. Why have they not even made his poor enclosure better, with elephant enrichment “toys”, why dont they order that his pool is regularly filled with clean water? I appreciate completely that there is a national crisis resulting from the terrible earthquake, but to hear nothing from the working group that was set up specifically for Kaavan at the CDA is very annoying. We wont give up! The Tribune needs to write another article after requesting updates from the CDA.Recommend

  • PelicanCat
    Nov 13, 2015 - 10:48AM

    Where is the petition?

    This is outrageous! What is the point of this cruelty?! It is senseless. If they want the world to have an ounce of respect for them, they will release this elephant immediately to a respectful sanctuary and assure that he gets the medical treatment needed. Any decent human being would not be a part of a ‘zoo’ such as this. These people are uncompassionate and mentally ill to think for a minute that this is Ok in any way. The world needs to shout out against these senseless atrocities!!


  • Carey Ostrer
    Nov 14, 2015 - 12:56AM

    PelicanCat I answered you question above re the Petition which now has more that 266,000 (thousand) signatures. I put the web/Facebook page address maybe that was why it hasn’t been printed, so, the petition is at Free Kaavan the Elephant Facebook page. Sorry not to have given that info before!Recommend

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