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Frank Sinatra helps jumbo jumbo leave hellhole zoo after 28 years in chains

The vets say Kaavan is in reasonable condition overall although he is obese and his toenails are cracked.

Staff Writers
2 minute read
Kaavan, a 35-year-old bull elephant at Islamabad zoo, had been kept in chains for 28 years. Photo: Pexels
Kaavan, a 35-year-old bull elephant at Islamabad zoo, had been kept in chains for 28 years. Photo: Pexels

A team of international vets using tranquiliser darts, flatbreads and soothing Frank Sinatra songs has conducted a pre-flight medical examination of Pakistan’s only Asian elephant, ahead of his planned move to Cambodia.

The plight of Kaavan, an overweight, 35-year-old bull elephant has drawn international condemnation and highlighted the woeful state of Islamabad zoo.

Conditions are so bad there that in May, a judge ordered all the animals to be moved.

Following that ruling, Austria-based animal welfare and rescue group Four Paws International arrived to help move Kaavan.

A transport crate will be built, and the elephant habituated to it before he can be flown to a Cambodian wildlife sanctuary, reports AFP.

But first, the experts had to know how Kaavan is physically, so they sedated him to get up close.

Armed with bananas and flatbreads, Four Paws veterinarian Amir Khalil coaxed the elephant into his empty pool while chief vet Frank Goeritz used a tranquiliser pistol to fire three large darts into the animal’s shoulder.

Unaccustomed to close human contact, the elephant grew agitated, prompting Khalil to sing Sinatra’s classic song “My Way”, which appeared to calm Kaavan as he munched his way through a pile of chapatis.

Once the tranquilisers knocked him out, the vets measured his hefty frame and girth, took blood samples and inserted a microchip in his left ear.

“He is in reasonable general condition, but he is totally obese. And his feet are terrible,” said Goeritz, pointing to the elephant’s cracked and malformed toenails.

His mental condition is uncertain, but he swooshes his head and trunk from side to side for hours on end.

“He is bored, and needs physical and mental challenges,” said Goeritz, who has worked with elephants across Africa.

Outrage over Kaavan, a gift from Sri Lanka in 1985, went global a few years ago after Californian vet Samar Khan saw him in his enclosure.

“I was horrified to find he had been chained there for 28 years,” Khan said.

She launched a petition and pop star and activist Cher added her weight to Kaavan’s cause.

Kaavan’s mate, Saheli, also from Sri Lanka, died of gangrene in 2012. It is hoped Kavaan might find a new mate once he is moved to Cambodia.

Now only a few animals remain at the zoo.

Most local staff have no animal-care training, and some attempts to move the animals have been disastrous.

An undisclosed number have died as they were being relocated.

Untrained zookeepers even tried to scare one lion out of its pen by setting piles of hay on fire.