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Freedom for Kaavan

by Newsweek Pakistan

File photo. Farooq Naeem—AFP

Pakistan to send the elephant housed at Islamabad Zoo to a sanctuary in Cambodia

The Islamabad High Court on Saturday approved the relocation of elephant Kaavan to Cambodia, two months after it had ordered wildlife officials to find a suitable sanctuary for him.

Adviser to P.M. on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam said authorities would “ensure that he lives a happy life.” He told news agency AFP that the “sad decision” to send Kaavan out of Pakistan had been taken with a “heavy heart,” adding that a team from Cambodia would come and take the 36-year-old elephant back with them.

Aslam said he had also discussed Kaavan’s plight with Prime Minister Imran Khan and it had been decided to establish a safari zoo in Islamabad to replace the dilapidated and cramped existing zoo.

Kaavan’s plight drew global attention, including from pop star Cher, after pictures of him in chains and videos of him exhibiting symptoms of mental illness went viral. A petition demanding his release gathered over 400,000 signatures.

During Saturday’s hearing, authorities told the court 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,” Anisur Rehman, the chairman of the Islamabad Wildlife management board, told AFP.

Arriving in Pakistan as a one-year-old in 1985 from Sri Lanka, Kaavan was temporarily held in chains in 2002 after zookeepers witnessed increasingly violent tendencies. He was freed later that year after an outcry, but in 2015 reports emerged had he was being chained for several hours each day once again.

In May, the Islamabad High Court’s ruling directing freedom for Kaavan had also ordered dozens of other animals, including brown bears, lions and birds, to be relocated temporarily while the Islamabad Zoo improves its standards.

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