‘World’s loneliest elephant’ okayed to quit zoo for new life

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A veterinary from the international animal welfare organization ‘Four Paws’ offers comfort to an elephant named ‘Kaavan’ prior to his examination at the Maragzar Zoo in Islamabad, Pakistan, Friday, Sept. 4, 2020. The team of vets are visiting Pakistan to assess the health condition of the 35-year-old elephant before shifting him to a sprawling animal sanctuary in Cambodia. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

ISLAMABAD (AP) — An elephant who has become a cause celebre for animal rights activists around the world will be allowed to leave his Pakistani zoo and transferred to better conditions, the animal welfare group helping with the case said Saturday.

Dubbed the ‘world’s loneliest elephant’ by his supporters, Kaavan has languished at a zoo in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad for more than 35 years.

Martin Bauer, a spokesman for Four Paws, said the elephant has been finally given medical approval to travel, most likely to Cambodia, where he will find companionship and better conditions.

The overweight elephant Kaavan underwent a full medical examination at the zoo on Friday, said Bauer.

In May, Pakistan’s High Court ordered the Marghazar Zoo closed because of its abysmal conditions blamed on systemic negligence.

Rescuing Kaavan from the zoo’s dire conditions attracted the attention of animal activists around the world, and celebrities including U.S. singer Cher, who lobbied for his relocation.

“Unfortunately, the rescue comes too late for two lions that died during an attempted transfer at the end of July after local animal handlers set a fire in their enclosure to force them into their transport crates,” Bauer said in a statement released on Saturday.

He said Four Paws was invited by the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board to safely transfer the remaining animals in the zoo. Kaavan has until now been forced to live a solitary life in a small enclosure.

Friday’s medical examination showed the elephant was overweight, even as he showed signs of malnutrition. His nails were cracked and overgrown apparently from years of living in an improper enclosure with flooring that damaged his feet.

“Following the checks, which confirmed Kaavan is strong enough, steps will now be taken to finalize his relocation to an animal sanctuary potentially in Cambodia,” Bauer said.

His recovery will be a long one, said Bauer, adding that Kaavan’s wounds are more than just physical. He also suffers behavioral issues.

Kaavan, who lost his partner in 2012, has battled loneliness as well as poor living conditions. Both have taken their toll, said Bauer in an interview.

“He also developed stereotypical behavior, which means he shakes his head back and forth for hours. This is mainly because he is simply bored,” said Bauer.

The Four Paws team that carried out Kaavan’s physical included wildlife veterinarians and experts.

It wasn’t immediately known when Kaavan would be able to travel. Rights activists have lobbied for his relocation since 2016.

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