Music icon Cher shared her delight after a Pakistani court ordered freedom for a lonely elephant, who had become the subject of a high-profile rights campaign backed by the US singer.

“We have just heard from Pakistan High Court Kaavan is free,” the singer and animal rights campaigner tweeted Thursday (May 21) in capital letters, adding a string of emojis and saying she felt “sick”.

“This is one of the greatest moments of my life,” she said.

Outrage over the treatment of Kaavan at the capital’s Islamabad Zoo went global several years ago with a petition garnering over 200,000 signatures after it emerged he was being chained up.

The Islamabad High Court ordered wildlife officials to consult with Sri Lanka, where the Asian elephant came from, to find him a “suitable sanctuary” within 30 days.

“The pain and suffering of Kaavan must come to an end by relocating him to an appropriate elephant sanctuary, in or outside the country”, the court ordered, criticizing the zoo for failing to meet the animal’s needs for the past three decades.

The court has also ordered dozens of other animals including brown bears, lions and birds to be relocated temporarily while the zoo improves its standards.

Zoo officials have in the past denied that the Kaavan was chained up and said that he was just in need of a new mate after his partner died in 2012. But experts have told previously that without a better habitat his future was bleak.

His behaviour including signs of distress such as bobbing his head repeatedly demonstrates “a kind of mental illness”, Safwan Shahab Ahmad of the Pakistan Wildlife Foundation told in 2016.

Activists said he had insufficient shelter from Islamabad’s searing summer temperatures, which can rise to above 40 degrees Celsius (100 Fahrenheit).

Asian elephants can roam thousands of kilometres through deep tropical and subtropical forests, according to the World Wildlife Fund. In contrast, Kaavan’s 90 by 140 metre (100 by 150 yard) pen had almost no foliage, and only limited shade was provided.

Pakistani elephant Kaavan is seen at the zoo in Islamabad in 2016, as activists have long called for his conditions to be improved. AFP/File/AAMIR QURESHI
Pakistani elephant Kaavan is seen at the zoo in Islamabad in 2016

The Nonhuman Rights Project, a US animal rights group, which has been campaigning for Kaavan, applauded the “bold step”.

Arriving as a one-year-old in 1985 from Sri Lanka, Kaavan was temporarily held in chains in 2002 because zookeepers were concerned about increasingly violent tendencies, but he was freed later that year after an outcry.

His mate Saheli, who arrived also from Sri Lanka in 1990, died in 2012, and in 2015 it emerged that Kaavan was regularly being chained once more for several hours a day.

Scores of people signed a petition sent to zoo authorities and Pakistan’s then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in protest.

A second petition circulated in 2016 and backed by over 200,000 animal-lovers from across the globe demanded Kaavan’s release to a sanctuary.

Cher, who for years has spoken out about his plight, tweeted her thanks to the Pakistani government, adding “it’s so emotional for us that I have to sit down”.


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