Long before COVID-19, Kaavan was in lockdown. The sole expatriate of his kind in Pakistan, since his partner Saheli died in 2012, he was overweight, depressed and suffering from a series of ailments. Now, thanks to local activists, a celebrity champion and a lot of planning, he has moved to greener pastures, where there is hope of recovery as well as company. The 36-year-old pachyderm has been transported from the Islamabad zoo to an elephant sanctuary in Cambodia.
Authorities at the zoo had initially denied that Kaavan was being mistreated. His ailments and listlessness, they argued, were a result of loneliness. But after a long campaign supported by music legend Cher, a Pakistan court ordered that animals from the zoo be relocated. Having been transported via jumbo jet to Cambodia, his ordeal is set to become the subject of a documentary — one which will, hopefully, also record a happy ending to the story of the “world’s loneliest elephant”.
Elephants are, like homo sapiens, social animals with the ability to feel grief, loss, love and anger. Kaavan’s life in Pakistan (where he was adored by the public) was never easy. But with the death of Saheli, he became, as so many people have become over the last year, lonely, listless and trapped indoors without anyone to share the misery with. Solitary confinement is widely acknowledged to be the most cruel of punishments, a torture for higher mammals hardwired by evolution and socialisation into developing a relational idea of the self — the “I” is formed only in how it is reflected in others. The next challenge for Kaavan is to make friends, and maybe even find love again. Unlike for humans, there is no smartphone app for him to swipe left and right while being engaged in an illusory consumerism of friendship and desire. Maybe, for Kaavan in his new home, that is just as well.
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