The neglect not only affected him physically but also started taking a toll on his behavior.
35 years—That is how long Kaavan the elephant spent at a Pakistani zoo in the country's capital of Islamabad. Kaavan became famous for the sad reason of being the "world’s loneliest elephant," which was the title given to him by those supporting him after they saw the dire conditions in which he has been living in.
Instead of roaming the wild with his herd, this gentle giant's world had shrunk to a small enclose at the Maraghazar Zoo where he arrived as a one-year-old in 1985. In 1990, he found a companion after the zoo brought in another elephant named Saheli. However, Kaavan became extremely lonely after Saheli passed away in 2012, according to Al Jazeera.
For about eight years, Kaavan had spent his time in isolation. Eventually, it was beginning to become clear that the elephant was mentally distressed, and getting depressed as he had nothing to do in his small enclosure. Adding to the misery of endless boredom, the elephant only had a pen that was 100 by 150-yards (90 by 140 meters) in size and not enough to give him proper shade. He would often have to suffer the feeling of being in chains along with the mental torment, according to Mirror.w
Thankfully, life for Kaavan began to change after Pakistan’s high court gave an order in May 2020 for the closure of the zoo due to the horrible and neglectful conditions that the animals were kept in, according to The Guardian. By then, Kaavan's story reached a number of animal activists and even celebrities like the singer, Cher spoke up for the elephant's relocation to a better home.
THIS IS ONE OF THE GREATEST MOMENTS OF MY LIFE.— Cher (@cher) May 21, 2020
CANT STOP😭,🥰,BEING SICK 2 MY STOMACH.(Ate🎂in The night & Was SOOOO Sick,Still am.Can you O.D from too much🎂)⁉️
BUT🐘KAAVAN IS FREE🙏🏻
😭DOWN MY CHEEKS,BUT HES FREE,& @markcowne 🕊DID IT🙌🏻.GINA,👑JEN👑👏🏻
"It's so exciting. It's remarkable... I'm so happy for Kavaan," Mark Cowne, CEO of Free The Wild which is also run by Cher, 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."
Although Kaavan was going to get another shot at a happier life, there were other animals at the zoo who did not get the same.
"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," said Martin Bauer, a spokesman for Four Paws, which is the organization helping the Islamabad wildlife management in safely moving the surviving animals to their new home, according to The Guardian.
As for Kaavan, a medical examination was done and the elephant was given the approval to travel. A sanctuary in Cambodia will most likely be his new home where he can be around other elephants for company and revel in a space that is much larger than the enclosure he spent about two and a half decades of his life in.
The medical examination also found other signs reflecting the neglect he suffered over the years. He walked around with overgrown nails that were cracked. And the enclosure, which was not the ideal condition for him, had left his feet damaged. In addition to this, he displayed signs of malnutrition even though he was overweight. But apart from the physical signs, the solitary life he was forced into had affected his mind and behavior as well.
"Following the checks, which confirmed Kaavan is strong enough, steps will now be taken to finalise his relocation to an animal sanctuary potentially in Cambodia," said Bauer. "...He also developed stereotypical behaviour, which means he shakes his head back and forth for hours. This is mainly because he is simply bored."
It would certainly take time for Kaavan to recover from the effects of poor living conditions. But a new home and a new life will hopefully be a big step towards recovery.