Dubbed the "world's loneliest elephant" by animal rights activists, Kaavan spent more than 30 years in Islamabad's notorious Marghazar Zoo before catching the attention of campaigners — including Cher — who began lobbying for his relocation around four years ago.
Martin Bauer, a spokesperson for animal welfare campaign group Four Paws, said Kaavan has been finally given medical approval to travel, most likely to an animal sanctuary in Cambodia, where the elephant will find companionship and better conditions.
Wildlife experts from Four Paws inspected the elephant upon invitation by local authorities, Mr Bauer said. Kaavan underwent a full medical examination at the zoo on Friday and was found to be malnourished.
"Due to malnutrition and lack of physical exercise Kaavan shows visible signs of obesity. Also, his nails are cracked and malformed which can be attributed to the inappropriate flooring and structure of his enclosure," said Dr Amir Khalil, a veterinarian with Four Paws.
The Marghazar Zoo was ordered to close in May by Pakistan's High Court because of its shockingly poor conditions, which were blamed on systemic negligence.
Four Paws was invited by the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board to safely transfer the remaining animals in the zoo, including a pair of former dancing bears.
“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,” Mr Bauer said in a statement on Saturday.
Before the order to close, Marghazar Zoo had come under fire for its mistreatment of animals. More than 500 animals have been reported missing in recent years and over two dozen animals have died in the zoo's care since 2016.
The campaign to relocate Kavaan took hold four years ago and was boosted by celebrity backing, notably from Cher, who repeatedly shared information about the elephant with fans.
Kaavan first arrived at the zoo in 1985 as a gift to Pakistan from Sri Lanka. The elephant was not always so lonely and for many years shared a small enclosure with female partner Saheli, which died in 2012.
On inspection, Kavaan was found to be suffering behavioural issues as well as the physical damage wrought by the poor, isolated conditions at Marghazar Zoo.
"A lack of physical and behavioural enrichments as well as the absence of a partner, have resulted in Kaavan becoming incredibly bored," Dr Frank Goritz, head veterinarian at Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research who accompanied Four Paws to Islamabad, said.
The elephant "has already developed stereotypical behaviour where he swooshes his head and trunk from side to side for hours", he added.
"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," Mr Bauer said, adding that it is not yet known when the elephant will be able to travel.
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