Kaavan, dubbed ‘the loneliest elephant’ in the world, arrived safely in Siem Reap in Cambodia on the 1st December 2020. There was a collective sigh of relief at the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary as moments after he exited his bespoke travelling container he gave himself a dust bath―a very elephant thing to do. 

Kaavan has captured an empathetic international audience who have watched in fascination and respect as he explored his new temporary enclosure, while he ate the specially prepared food and for a brief second the world held its collective breath as he touched trunks with his new elephant neighbour.

No one has watched Kaavan’s first steps more closely than the people who have worked so hard to achieve his freedom and the opportunity for a better life. 

Indeed, this is the time to celebrate and to appreciate the five years of hard work carried out by various wildlife activists and campaigners in Pakistan and around the world. We congratulate the achievement of singer, Cher, on her success. We acknowledge with deep thanks and admiration, the significance of the legal application to the high court in Pakistan by Kaavan’s lawyer, Owais Awan, a colleague and member of PREN, which ultimately set him free.  We are deeply grateful that the courts of Pakistan have recognised Kaavan’s rights as a sentient being.

The scope of the huge project to physically move Kaavan from the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad, Pakistan to a Sanctuary in Cambodia cannot be underestimated.

For months the expert team from Four Paws including, Ingo Schmidinger, a colleague and a member of PREN from iScapes, who worked with Kaavan to gain his trust. We acknowledge the expert care of Dr Amir Khalil from Four Paws and Dr Frank Goertiz from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research. Kavaan’s diet was adjusted, he was treated with care and respect by all these experts as he was gently guided to become accustomed to his travelling container.  

Over the past few days his farewell party at the zoo and every leg of his incredible journey has played out across the world media―Kaavan’s story is trending on all social media networks. The members of the Pro Elephant Network (PREN), a network of fifty-three specialists, would like to use this unique opportunity to emphasise the reasons why elephants should never be held in captivity. 

Kaavan, a male elephant was born in 1985 in Sri Lanka, he was ‘gifted’ to the government of Pakistan and he has been living in the Islamabad `zoo ever since. In 1990 he was joined by Saheli, an elephant from Bangladesh, and after she died in 2012 Kaavan was apparently chained up in his enclosure.  The signs of the severe stress and loneliness he has suffered are at times plainly obvious and very difficult to watch. 

Elephants have a highly complex, social structure, biology, size and spatial requirements. They are highly intelligent, sentient, and cognitive beings. In the wild elephants can walk 50 miles a day, yet elephants in captivity are often offered enclosures that are less than 500 square meters per elephant, and often chained; they are deprived of their most basic needs such as extended social relationships and freedom of choice.  Consequently the welfare of elephants kept in zoos is severely compromised and untenable.  

Many captive elephants live completely alone. Zoos must phase out their elephant ‘exhibits’ and refrain from subjecting more elephants to captivity. Those currently held should receive more humane treatment and more appropriate environments.

Members of the Pro Elephant Network believe that the story of Kaavan will highlight the plight of many elephants who live in solitary confinement in zoos around the world and the urgent need to give them better and meaningful lives. 

If an adult bull elephant incarcerated in a  zoo for decades with his health compromised by the confinement can be successfully transported 4,000 kilometres from Pakistan to Cambodia it means that rescuing and rehabilitating elephants in captivity is definitely doable and achievable.  It just requires our will to let them go.

This statement is endorsed by the following members of the Pro Elephant Network

Owais Awan                                               Environmental Lawyer – Islamabad

Dr Harvey Croze Collaborating Researcher, Amboseli Trust for Elephants, Kenya

Suparna Baksi-Ganguly                          President and Co-Founder, Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation Center, Bangalore, India

Dr Brett Bard                                             Veterinarian, South Africa 

Dr Jessica Bell Rizzolo                            Postdoctoral Researcher, the Conservation Criminology Lab, Dep of Fisheries and Wildlife, Michigan State University

Professor David Bilchitz                        Director, South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public and Human Rights and International Law  – South Africa 

Dr Gay Bradshaw                                     Director, Kerulos Center for Nonviolence – USA

Megan Carr                                                Founder, Rhinos in Africa – South Africa

Lenin Chisaira                                            Founder, Advocates 4 Earth – Green Law Connect, Zimbabwe

Dr Betsy Coville                                        Wildlife Veterinarian – USA

Nomusa Dube                                           Founder, Zimbabwe Elephant Foundation

Stefania Falcon                                         Co-Founder, Future 4 Wildlife, South Africa  

Michele Franko                                         Senior Research Associate – Elephant Care & Wellbeing at the Kerulos Center for Nonviolence United States of America

Chief Stephen Fritz                                  Chief, South Peninsula Khoi Council – South Africa 

Dr Marion Garai                                       Elephant Behavior Specialist – South Africa 

Rachel Harris                                             Managing Director, Elephant Human Relationship Aid, Namibia

Dr Ross Harvey                                       Environmental Economist, Botswana   

Alok Hissarwala Gupta                           Elephant Specialist, Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations

Iris Ho                                                           Senior Wildlife Specialist, The Humane Society International 

Peter Hodgskin                                         Founder, Hands-off Fernkloof, South Africa  

Lynne James                                              Committee member of  Mutare SPCA,  Zimbabwe

Dr Paula Kahumbu                                  WildlifeDirect, Kenya  

Professor Mohan Kharel                       Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal

Nuria Maldonado                                    Ecologist, Environmental Science, Max Plank Institute

Jim Karani                                                   Advocate, Lawyers for Animal Protection in Africa

Dr Winnie Kiiru                                         Founder, Conservation Kenya

Rob Laidlaw                                                Executive Director Zoocheck Canada 

Kahindi Lekalhaile                                    Africa Network for Animal Welfare, Kenya 

Dr Smaragda Law                                     Director, Ban Animal Trading, South Africa 

Dr Keith Lindsay                                       Conservation Biologist, Kenya

Giorgio Lombardi                                     Warden Vogelgat Private Nature Reserve, South Africa 

Linda Masudze                                          Advocate 4 Earth, Zimbabwe 

Varda Mehrotra                                       Executive Director, Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations 

Mary Morrison                                         Advocate, WildlifeDirect, Kenya

Sharon Pincott                                          Elephant Behavioural Specialist, ex-Hwange, Zimbabwe  

Michele Pickover                                     Director, EMS Foundation, South Africa

Dr Yolanda Pretorius                              SA Wildlife College, Elephant Behavioural Specialist, South Africa  

Ingo Schmidinger                                     Elephant Husbandry – iScapes 

Dr Jan Schmidt-Burbach                        Veterinarian, Head of Wildlife Research and Animal Welfare, World Animal Protection International

Antoinette Van de Water                    Director, Bring the Elephant Home, South Africa  

Prof Dan Wylie                                          Rhodes University, South Africa 

Julie Woodyer                                           Elephant Captivity – Zoocheck Canada 

IMAGE CREDITS: Four Paws International

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