Lawyer Owais Awan is elated at the decision of the Islamabad High Court (IHC), which ruled this May that a distressed Asian elephant Kaavan should be moved to Cambodia from Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad.
“We were lucky to have a judge who was receptive and passionate about the cause of animal welfare,” said Awan.
The elephant Kaavan was gifted to the Pakistani government by Sri Lanka in 1985, when he was a year old.
“My children and even my grandchildren grew up seeing Kaavan and it will be sad to see him off, but we all know he has a beautiful future ahead of him; he will be at peace,” said Anis ur Rahman, the chair of the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB).
Kaavan will be shifted to a sanctuary in Cambodia before September and the board has been ordered by the court to take over the management of Marghazar Zoo as well as oversee the safe relocation of elephant Kaavan.
The judge also instructed that all the 878 other animals held in Islamabad’s zoo be relocated within 60 days of the order.
The ruling was celebrated with enthusiasm in Pakistan and by Kaavan’s campaigners across the world. But it has also forced many to question the value of such zoos — especially with dozens of incidents of abuse reported across cities in Pakistan.
Even as many celebrate Kaavan’s impending freedom, Uzma Khan, the director of biodiversity at WWF Pakistan, is sceptical. She was among those who gave evidence to the court on the case and said transportation can cause huge stress in an animal. “God forbid something happens during this transfer, who will take responsibility?” she said.
Uzma Khan also expressed concern about whether elephant Kaavan will adjust to his new life, saying, “Considering the average zoo life expectancy of an Asian elephant, Kaavan has lived most of his life, and efforts should be made to improve his enclosure and provide enrichments so that his quality of life improves and he is more active.”