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Elephant Wins Freedom

An elephant at the Murghazar Zoo in Islamabad is to be freed thanks to a recent ruling by Pakistan's High Court.

After photos were published showing the elephant living in terrible conditions, sometimes chained, many concerned people and organisations sprung into action, sending petitions to the Pakistani government.

History doesn't relate how pop super-star Cher first got involved but it seems her celebrity status may have helped embarrass the authorities sufficiently enough to take action. For the last four years she has been calling for the release of Kaavan, a 33-year old Asian elephant from Sri Lanka, describing him as “the world’s loneliest elephant”.

Animal rights groups have also endeavoured to achieve Kaavan's release after his only playmate died in the zoo a few years ago. And now, finally, Pakistan's High Court has ruled that he should be set free and allowed to live out his remaining years in a more pleasant environment, with new friends.

“The pain and suffering of Kaavan must come to an end by relocating him to an appropriate elephant sanctuary,” the court stated. To facilitate the court’s ruling, Pakistan’s Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB) is working to find him a “suitable sanctuary”.

The IWMB has assembled an eight-member committee to arrange the relocation of Kaavan. Members include WWF senior director Rab Nawaz, biodiversity specialist Z.B. Mirza, an Islamabad Zoo veterinary officer, IUCN’s Nilanga Jaysinghe, and co-founder of Save the Elephant Foundation Derek Thompsan, according to a report in Gulf News.

In very good news for the rest of the occupants of Murghazar Zoo, the court has also directed that all the other remaining animals be moved to temporary sanctuaries while the zoo improves its standards. High quality zoos are reasonably defendable in the court of public opinion, but bad zoos most definitely are not. It is hoped, therefore, that the zoo in Islamabad will only be allowed to reopen once it achieves the highest possible standards.

Kaavan first came to Pakistan when he was only a year old, as a gift for the country’s leader at the time. Since his companion Saheli died in 2012, he has not been able to enjoy the company of other elephants. His release will allow him to live out his life among a social group of his peers.

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