The Islamabad High Court has ordered the Islamabad Zoo to move all animals, including their famed elephant Kaavan, to an animal sanctuary within 30 days because it lacks the basic facilities for their proper care and upkeep.

In a judgement, they ordered wildlife officials to consult with Sri Lanka to find Kaavan a “suitable sanctuary” within 30 days.

The condition and treatment of Kaavan, an Asian elephant from Sri Lanka, who had spent nearly three decades without a female partner in a small cage in the zoo had gathered international outrage several years ago.


The elephant’s behaviour, including bobbing his head repeatedly, demonstrated “a kind of mental illness” and wildlife experts were of the opinion that he was depressed.

Apart from not having a partner, 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.

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It was also reported that food which was meant for Kaavan was being stolen by his caretakers. Last year, Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry had also alleged that chickens meant to feed lions at the zoo were being cooked in the home of the zoo director.

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.

Kavaan’s misery caught the attention of American music icon and actor, Cher, who had long propagated for his release. After the news of Kavaan’s release emerged, she took to social media to express her joy and thank the Government of Pakistan.

Cher also referred to this as “one of the greatest moments of her life”.

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah, during the hearings, had blasted the Marghazar Zoo for lack of necessities and has asked that all the animals be moved to an animal sanctuary. The Islamabad Zoo will be allowed to keep animals only after they are capable of providing physical, psychological and emotional needs to the animals.