Cher overjoyed after elephant Kaavan, beaten and tormented for 35 years, is ordered to be released by court

The Islamabad High Court in Pakistan criticized the Marghazar Zoo for failing to meet the elephant's needs for the past three decades and ordered officials to find him a suitable sanctuary


                            Cher overjoyed after elephant Kaavan, beaten and tormented for 35 years, is ordered to be released by court
(Getty Images)

A Pakistani court has ordered the release of the country's loneliest elephant, who has been confined within the walls of the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad for the last 35 years.

Kaavan, an Asian bull elephant, was first brought to the zoo from Sri Lanka in the mid-1980s and grew increasingly unruly after the female elephant he was being kept with died in 2012, according to the Daily Mail. 

In response to his aggression, his caretakers started chaining his legs, beating him, confining him in an enclosure that was far too small for him, and denying him food.

His plight soon came to the attention of animal rights activists, international media, and celebrities, all of whom campaigned for him to be released into a sanctuary. An online petition for the same was signed over 280,000 times and sparked protests outside the zoo.

Sunny Jamil, an activist for the Help Welfare Organization, a local animal rights group in Pakistan, revealed that he visited the zoo regularly and highlighted a mangled fan in the ceiling of Kaavan's enclosure as proof that it was too small.

He also said that the elephant's pen could reach as high as 40-degrees Celcius (100 F) in the summer and that he was given little water to cool down. "It is cruel," he said.

Mohammed Jalal, the caretaker for the 36-year-old elephant, echoed those sentiments. "I have hardly seen him happy," he said.

Kaavan was seen swaying even as Jalal spoke, something that is reportedly a sign of mental torment amongst elephants, and even hurled a brick at onlookers at one point. But he may finally see some respite following an order by the Islamabad High Court.

The court directed wildlife officials in the country to find Kaavan "a suitable sanctuary" in Sri Lanka within the next 30 days and criticized the Marghazar Zoo for failing to meet the elephant's needs for the past three decades.

"The pain and suffering of Kaavan must come to an end by relocating him to an appropriate elephant sanctuary, in or outside the country," the court said.

The decision was hailed by singer Cher, who has been vocal in her support for the elephant's freedom. "We have just heard from Pakistan High Court Kaavan is free," she said on Twitter. "This is one of the greatest moments of my life."

Mark Cowne, CEO of Free The Wild, a charity he runs with Cher, also celebrated the move. "It's so exciting. It's remarkable ... I'm so happy for Kavaan," he told Al Jazeera. "We were concerned about his mental health, he was in a very bad condition. We really wanted to help him. He had been through a terrible time, locked up for 26 years, chained up for all that time."

The allegations of abuse were denied by the zoo, with the Capital Development Authority, the local agency in charge of managing it, initially refusing to conduct the transfer over fears that it would lose visitors.

Sanaullah Aman, an official with the agency, denied they had mistreated Kaavan and said "every possible step" was being taken for his wellbeing, adding that they had been working on bringing in another female companion for him.

Besides Kaavan, the court also ordered for brown bears, lions and birds at the zoo to be temporarily relocated while it improved its standards.

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