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Kaavan, Pakistan's 'Loneliest Elephant', Finally Freed After 35 Years In Chains

An Asian elephant has finally been freed after spending 35 years shackled at a zoo, earning him the heartbreaking title of Pakistan's "loneliest elephant", The Sun reported.

Kaavan, who has been the subject of many viral campaigns petitioning for his release, has been granted his freedom and will transported to a sanctuary in Cambodia next month.

For the last 35 years, Kaavan has spent all day, every day, chained up inside his enclosure at Islamabad Zoo in Pakistan.

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During his lengthy time spent in captivity, various animal welfare groups, including the Friends of Islamabad Zoo, expressed concern for the Asian bull elephant's mental and physical well-being.

He once had a playmate named Saheli who lived with him from 1990 until her death in 2012. But since then, Kaavan has been on his own at the zoo, and has increasingly showed signs of mental distress.

In 2015, a petition to free Kaavan went viral online, revealing the horrible abuse the poor elephant received at the hands of his captors.

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Samar Kahan, who started the change.org petition, described the treatment:

"His legs were chained up to limit where he could move in his enclosure. But that didn’t seem to matter because for the entire time I was there Kaavan didn’t move. The only thing that moved was his head, as it bobbed repetitively from right and left, a behavior known as 'weaving' which elephants adopt in response to stress and depression."

As the petition and Kaavan's heartbreaking story spread quickly around the world, immense pressure was placed on Pakastani authorities for his release.

Singer Cher was quite vocal in her calls for Kaavan's release, and she even sent her representative, Mark Cowne, to the zoo in 2016 to find out more about the elephant's living conditions.

"It was bad," Cowne told Forbes at the time. "[After] 27 years in chains, Kaavan is severely mentally damaged."

Zoo officials tried to insist Kaavan's poor state was due to the loss of Saheli in 2012, and said he simply needed a new playmate to feel better.

"He doesn't need a mate," Cowne said. "Kaavan needs a new, bigger enclosure. The Capital Development Authority (CDA) does not accept any responsibility, they have a small number of people visiting the zoo and given that the zoo officials say they have no money and deal with budget constraints, the zoo ought to be closed down."

Now, after years of passionate activism and petitioning from people all around the globe, a Pakistani court has ordered for Kaavan's freedom.

According to a tweet from the Friends of Islamabad Zoo, in May the Islamabad High Court ordered wildlife officials to consult with Sri Lanka, the elephant's birthplace, to find Kaavan a “suitable sanctuary” within 30 days,

All remaining animals at the zoo are to be relocated as well within 60 days.

Once the court's ruling had been made public, Cher took to Twitter to share the good news with her followers.

Speaking in all-caps, she wrote, "We have just heard from Pakistan High Court, Kaavan is free."

In a follow-up tweet, the singer publicly thanked the Pakastani government for their decision.

On July 17, the Pakastani government subsequently consented the Free the Wild animal organization to relocate Kaavan to a sanctuary in Cambodia.

In a recent Instagram post, Free the Wild revealed that Kaavan is currently "being fed, watered and nurtured" while they await for vets to check his health, a necessary step before before the group can apply for the permit to move him.

Although the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has made this step "difficult", the group assures Kaavan's supporters that the vets "are on their way!"

Once the permit is received, the group will be able to move Kaavan to his new home in Cambodia.

In a July blog post, FTW co-founder and Mark Cowne's wife, Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne, explained Kaavan will have to undergo around 3-4 weeks of crate training to ensure he is comfortable with the prospect of travel confinement before he is moved.

But, if all goes well, she estimates he will reach his new home, and officially achieve his freedom, by the end of September.

h/t: Forbes, The Sun, Free the Wild