Animal lovers, artists, and government officials joined an emotional moment Monday in Pakistan’s capital to see off the country’s “loneliest” elephant as it left for a wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia to spend its retired life.
Kaavan — Islamabad’s only elephant — embarked on a flight to Cambodia on a special Russian aircraft from an air force base, bringing a years-long worldwide campaign for his relocation to a successful end.
His departure, originally scheduled for Sunday evening, was delayed for several hours until Monday morning due to some unspecified technical reasons.
American pop icon Cher, whose aggressive campaign helped fast-track Kaavan’s relocation, arrived in Islamabad on Friday to see off the elephant.
She flew on Sunday to Cambodia, where she along with local wildlife officials will receive Kaavan upon his arrival.
A team of veterinarians is also accompanying the 36-year-old elephant, who will spend his remaining years in Siem Reap in northwestern Cambodia.
Footage aired on local broadcaster Geo News showed wildlife workers using ropes at Islamabad Zoo to pull a tranquilized Kaavan in an, specially prepared metal crate before shifting him to the airbase.
A Pakistani court in May had ordered wildlife authorities to free and transport Kaavan, who has been lonely following the death of his partner “Saheli,” meaning friend, in 2012.
Gifted by the Sri Lankan government in 1985 as just a year-old calf, Kaavan became the subject of a high-profile rights campaign after it was revealed in 2015 that he was regularly being chained for several hours a day.
Pictures of Kaavan in shackles ignited a global outcry which was also backed by international wildlife groups and individuals, including Cher, for his release to a sanctuary. Activists also filed a petition in 2016 that was backed by over 200,000 people across the globe.
Many described Kaavan as “Pakistan’s loneliest elephant,” urging authorities to set him free and relocate him to a sanctuary amid his deteriorating health.
“It’s a watershed moment for us vis-à-vis the treatment of animals in Pakistan,” Anees-ur-Rehman, a former head of the state-run Wildlife Management Board, told Anadolu Agency.
“It hopefully will pave the way for proper legislation with respect to the treatment of animals so that the foreign organizations do not need to intervene,” he said, referring to the global outcry over Kaavan’s treatment at the zoo.
Wildlife officials cited Kaavan’s “increasingly violent” behavior, which was mainly due to the death of his mate, as the reason he was bound.
A team from Austria-based FOUR PAWS International, a global animal welfare organization, examined Kaavan in September and declared him fit for air travel.
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