ISLAMABAD: It seems the plight of Kaavan — an Asian elephant long held in chains at city’s Zoo — nears its end, as the city’s managers have decided to liberate the animal following international outcry.
An online petition launched some 10 days ago by Zareen Khan, an American national of Pakistani origin, has crossed 30,000 signatures forcing the capital’s civic authority to take the decision. The petition demanded the Capital Development Authority (CDA)to free the elephant, which has been chained and kept in solitary confinement for many years now.
The decision was taken at a meeting attended by CDA chairman, senior officials of the environment and zoo and wildlife management wings, and Kaavan’s handler.
“The chairman has strictly directed to remove all chains at earliest,” said director-general environment Sheikh Suleman, who attended the meeting.
Elephant handler, Bilal, who enjoys long association spanning over almost 26 years with the animal, informed the officials of the reasons behind chaining him.
Bilal told the meeting that it started in late 90’s when Kaavan allegedly killed a person employed to clean the interior of his enclosure. “To avoid any untoward incident in future, I started chaining him during cleaning and feeding time,” an official who attended the meeting quoted Bilal as saying.
He stated that the time span of keeping him chained increased after the death of his sole companion, Saheli, a female elephant gifted by the government of Bangladesh in early 90s to Pakistan who died in May 2012 at the Zoo. He said earlier there was no proper enclosure for the elephant and he was kept in a fenced area but now a special enclosure has been constructed and Kaavan is no more a potential threat to visitors if set free.
“Wild behaviour that includes attacking staffers is witnessed in Kaavan after Saheli’s death,” Sheikh Suleman said.
He said the meeting also decided that CDA would soon sent a request to Sri Lankan government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for provision of two female elephants for the zoo to address physiologically motivated behavioural issues Kaavan had been facing due to absence of partner.
“Chairman has ordered the zoo management to follow standard and international protocols defined for the captive animals,” Suleman said.
Kaavan was brought from Sri Lanka in 1985 to Islamabad Zoo when he was a year old.
The issue of chaining first caught Khan’s attention, who was on a visit to the federal capital a couple of weeks ago. Seeing the situation of elephant she initiated an online petition requesting animal lovers to urge authorities to free the elephant.
I was astonished and sad to see the elephant standing at one place throughout the 45 minutes she spent at the zoo, she wrote in the petition.
“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 wrote adding it was a pitiful sight.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 9th, 2015.