Last elephant standing

Let us not forget Kavaan and other animals and ensure that we can do our bit so that they are treated well

Kamal Siddiqi September 13, 2015
The writer is Editor of The Express Tribune

Some days back, our enterprising reporter Danish Hussain in Islamabad did a story about Kavaan, the last elephant standing at the Marghazar Zoo. The story came on the back of a petition filed by a woman of Pakistani origin in which the plight of Kavaan she highlighted.

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

Officials who run the zoo said that the elephant become depressed after the death of his companion. The zoo management thought it better to chain all his four legs instead of providing Kavaan medical treatment or finding him a companion.

Our paper quoted elephant handler Bilal who has worked with Kavaan and other elephants for over 26 years. Bilal said that in the late 90’s, Kaavan allegedly attacked a person employed to clean the interior of the elephant enclosure.

To avoid any further incident in future, Bilal then took over these responsibilities then a decision was also taken to chain Kavaan for longer periods.

The time span of keeping Kavaan chained increased further after the death of Saheli. Earlier there wasn’t a proper enclosure for the elephant and he was kept in a fenced area.

Now that a special enclosure has been built, the need to chain Kavaan, if at all, did not arise. And yet Kavaan remained chained.

Zareen Khan, an American national of Pakistani-origin, highlighted Kavaan’s plight after a visit to the zoo a couple of weeks earlier and seeing the miserable condition of the poor elephant. She decided to start an online campaign.

In her petition, Zareen wrote that she was astonished and sad to see the elephant standing at one place throughout the 45 minutes she spent at the enclosure.

“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.

Zareen Khan called it a pitiful sight and urged animal lovers to push the authorities to phase out their elephant exhibit and send Kaavan to an elephant sanctuary abroad.

Such is the power of the online media that over 27,000 animal lovers from across the globe signed an online petition demanding the capital’s civic agency unchain and free Kavaan.

At our paper, we have received hundreds of e-mails that are addressed to the authorities and in which we are copied. Outrage came from all over the world. Many voiced concern over the state-of-affairs at the Islamabad Zoo and also warned that no country should gift another elephant to the facility unless the living conditions of Kavaan were improved.

The petition had its effect. Within a few days, the zoo management removed chains from two of Kaavan’s legs.

In response the zoo management uploaded two videos of the elephant showing his unchained legs and the elephant taking rounds of the enclosure with his handler. But a visit to the zoo made by our reporter in the evening of the same day showed that two of his legs were still chained.

The CDA insists that the situation was very wrongly portrayed in the social media. Officials said that the male elephant was healthy, taking its food and its bath daily. Let us hope so.

It is up to us to make sure that the elephant is freed of his chains. Many argue that given the country’s larger problems, why should we worry about animals. As a nation, how we treat our animals speaks volumes about us. This is as important as the rest of our issues. Let us not forget Kavaan and other animals and ensure that we can do our bit so that they are treated well.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 14th,  2015.

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Anne Terry | 8 years ago | Reply Elephants have among the strongest family bonds of all mammals. The basic international standard for keeping elephants in captivity is three elephants with sufficient room to exercise, that is nearly an acre, and sufficient clean water to submerge themselves. Elephants, or any animal, kept in abject misery is not informative, educational, and contributes to inculcating indifferent and often malicious behaviors in observers over time. The conversion of the zoo to a sports/recreation/play park would better serve the public. Children need to see activities of other humans that they can enjoy, appreciate, emulate, and just simply run around and exercise with their parents. No jobs need be lost, only transformed in to park managers and assistants. Zoos are antiquated in some aspects given the technologies that allow us to observe nature through imagery and films. Zoos should primarily serve conservation efforts and there just need to be fewer zoos.
Tariq Ali Malik | 8 years ago | Reply CDA does not treat human beings well, how do you expect them to treat an elephant, unless he is Grade 21 or 22. Our Zoo are in a despicable condition and corruption and pilferage of the local administration result in depriving animals of healthy food and environmental conditions.
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