AbZOOlutely Not** or The Controversy of Zoos & Others Keeping Elephants in Captivity

A Zoo Elephant’s Road to Freedom, A Look Back, Part 2: Ele Facts; Kaavan & Saheli, At Least They Had Each Other For a Little While

The male elephant was able to tolerate his time in captivity as long as he had his female companion, Saheli. But suddenly one day Saheli died and Kaavan was never the same again. They had spent 22 years together in the Islamabad Zoo and at that age elephants are in the prime of their lives.

Saheli, the elephant, should never have died. Kaavan was left alone in his grief in that wretched place and was never able to cope again. Perhaps the elephant had gone mad and who was to blame him if he did.

The chains now cutting into his legs were more than a constant reminder that his mate, Saheli, was gone (four of his legs remained chained until Sept. 2015 when two of his leg chains were removed, (11) however Kaavan did eventually become chain-free in his hovel). Hope had not yet entered his mind, in the form of his rescue, which would come years later. All the elephant had now were faint memories of Saheli. At least they had each other for a little while.


Image: AWW (19)


Ele Facts

Name: Kaavan (1)

Species: Asian elephant

Sex / Gender: Male / Bull

Year of Birth: 1981 see elephant data base (2)

Age at time of his rescue: other sources, including Four Paws, say age 36 in November 2020 although this conflicts with the elephant data base showing 1981 as his birth year

Place of Birth: Sri Lanka, in the wild

Captured as a calf and taken to the (1) Islamabad Marghazar Zoo in Pakistan. The baby elephant was presented as a gift to the daughter of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, Military ruler of Pakistan at that time. (3)


Image: AWW (19)

Image: AWW (14)


Kaavan’s Health Concerns:   – “Dangerously overweight” as the zoo keepers fed him mostly sugar cane. (4)

  • Toenails “cracked and overgrown” after “years of living in an improper enclosure with flooring that damaged his feet.” (5)


  • Kaavan suffered emotionally as well. He developed ‘zoochosis‘ after his mate Saheli died in 2012. This is the stereotypical swaying, ‘throwing his head from side-to-side’, often displayed by zoo elephants & caused by misery, a lack of stimulation and boredom in such intelligent creatures, reported Martin Bauer, a spokesman for Four Paws. (3) (4)



  • When Dr. Amir first met the elephant he attributed Kaavan’s aggressive behavior to his physical and mental deterioration especially considering the years Kaavan had spent alone before his rescue. Four Paw’s Director of Project Development and Veterinarian, Dr Amir Khalil (6)


Animal Welfare Worldwide video above (15)


Kaavan’s Food Intake: 

         Old Eating Habits  550 pounds/250 kilograms of pure sugar cane each day with some fruit & vegetables            on occasion (5)   


  • New Food Plan – fruit & vegetables.  In three months Kaavan lost ‘half a ton’ (450 kilograms) of weight as Four Paws Vet Team, including Dr. Amil Khalil, readied him for his transport to Cambodia. Upon arrival in Cambodia Kaavan’s weight was a more suitable 9,000 lbs (4,080 kilograms)! (5)


  • In-flight – Kaavan was given first class treatment for his seven hour flight from Pakistan to Cambodia. His snacks alone weighed 440 lbs (200 kilograms). This food kept the pachyderm content and amused during his trip; he even took a nap standing up in his crate so his was a stress-free flight, reported Amir Khalil. (4)


Animal Welfare Worldwide video above (14)


Preparations for Kaavan’s Rescue: Four Paws veterinarians and their elephant experts devoted three months to the elephant at his enclosure at the Islamabad Zoo in Pakistan. In addition to health checks and providing him with healthy elephant food (sans the sugar cane) they were preparing Kaavan to take the flight of his life to his eventual new home.

He was introduced to his ‘four-ton travel crate’ and practiced entering and exiting the shipment container to allow for a stress-free departure day, and a safe, happy and comfortable (his crate included ‘a system that would hold up to 200 liters (53 gallons) of urine.’) journey on to his new life. (4)


Kaavan’s New Home: Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary (7)


Ruptly video above (6)


“Kaavan’s one saving grace… was his female companion Saheli.” (3)


Image: AWW (14)


Kaavan’s Companion Elephant: Saheli (8) aka Sahaily, Menika*

(see elephant database *”In Sri Lanka her name was Menika.”) “Saheli,” meaning friend (9)

Species: Asian elephant

Sex / Gender: Female

Year of Birth: 1989 see elephant data base (10)


Place of Birth: Unknown

Imported: 1992  “1992: The elephant was donated by Bangladeshi Prime Minister Begum Khalida Zia” (8) Some        sources say that in 1990 or 1991 the elephant was brought over to Pakistan from Bangladesh (12)

Date of Death: 01 May 2012


Circumstances surrounding death: “29 April 2012: The female elephant ailed suddenly on Sunday morning and was unable to stand up. CDA (Capital Development Authority) even used a crane to help her stand on her feet, but in vain. 01 May 2012: Improvement on Tuesday morning, ate some watermelons, bananas and drank milk, but later collapsed and died.”  Source: The Elephant Database (8)


Image: AWW (19)


Official cause of death: “unknown” given on Elephant Data Base (8) yet

  • there are multiple, conflicting reports describing how Saheli died. ‘Official accounts’ list heart attack. Animal Rights groups claim an infection set in after the elephant was ‘struck with a bull hook’. (3)


  • Also some are saying the ‘virus infection’ originated from ‘the chain that locked her leg’. (11)



Autopsy Results confirmed that “…Saheli’s respiratory system had failed after she lay down during her illness.” (13)

Image: FB C2D (18)


Image: FB C2D (18)


Whatever truth prevails her mate Kaavan stood by her side, even after Saheli’s death. (11)


Kaavan then became known as “The World’s Loneliest Elephant” (11) until his rescue in November 2020.


Image: AWW (14)


Update: At his new home in The Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary (7) this boy is a lonely elephant no more!


See also: A Zoo Elephant’s Road to Freedom, A Look Back, Part 3: What a Captive Elephant Needs – Kaavan’s Influential Friends


Images: Baby Kaavan (19) from Video The Tragic Life of Kaavan by Animal Welfare Worldwide; Saheli’s body being washed /’Death of Saheli 2012′ (18) with FB C2D; Saheli in death, covered in tarp, face showing,(17) with article 2012 Saheli elephant dies mysteriously & Kaavan watching over the body of Saheli (16) with article 2014 Saheli elephant will be missed, both by Dawn.com; ‘My Name is Kaavan…’/’For six years…’ /Saheli & Kaavan trunks touching (14) from Video Kaavan Has Secured a Sanctuary CWS by Animal Welfare Worldwide; ‘In Memory of Saheli’ (19) companion elephant of Kaavan by Animal Welfare Worldwide Anika tweet; Saheli’s body strapped in lift (19) from death of Saheli elephant also Kaavan Animal Welfare Worldwide Anika Tweet




(1) https://www.elephant.se/database2.php?elephant_id=2269

(2) https://www.elephant.se/elephant_birth.php?year=1981

(3) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GwycY86BHs “Pakistan: ‘World’s loneliest elephant’ departs   Islamabad zoo for sanctuary in Cambodia” Ruptly CH

(4) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2h2psTcR30E World’s loneliest elephant’ arrives safely in Cambodia”

(5) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMpjyydyPiU “How Singer Cher Is Helping Kaavan, The ‘World’s Loneliest Elephant” thebadmocro CH

(6) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tq-JfJkba18 “World”s loneliest elephant” Kaavan to find company in Cambodia” Ruptly CH

(7) https://www.cambodiawildlifesanctuary.com/

(8) https://www.elephant.se/database2.php?elephant_id=2270

(9) https://www.moonastro.com/babyname/baby%20name%20saheli%20meaning.aspx

(10) https://www.elephant.se/elephant_birth.php?year=1989

(11) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FC8tE-DB7c0 Kaavan: Nice place for Kaavan Living at Cambodia | The world’s loneliness elephant” Paisajes CH

(12) https://tribune.com.pk/story/950356/the-last-elephant-kaavans-sad-existence-draws-global-outcry

(13) https://tribune.com.pk/story/384265/findings-saheli-died-of-heart-failure-says-autopsy

(14) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vq1_lp95PYg “Kaavan has Secured a Sanctuary at No cost to Pakistan at Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary” Animal Welfare Worldwide CH

(15) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCO3zzJoqZU evidence bilal sells sugarcanes 2018′ by Animal Welfare Worldwide CH Description: Kaavan being fed sugar cane by his keeper at the Islamabad Zoo while patrons watch

(16) https://www.dawn.com/news/1124798/islamabads-saheli-shall-be-missed-on-world-elephant-day/RK=0

(17) https://www.dawn.com/news/714891/zoo-staff-under-radar-after-elephant-dies-mysteriously

(18) https://www.facebook.com/C2Dpk/photos/pcb.2237431379719366/2237413389721165/?type=3&theater

(19) https://twitter.com/search?q=%23saheli&src=typed_query

(20) https://www.four-paws.org/ or https://www.four-paws.us/ or https://www.four-paws.org.za/


Four Paws (20)

Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary (7)


Elephant Spoken Here Facebook

Elephant Spoken Here twitter @ESHelephants


P.S. About the Category AbZOOlutely Not** or The Controversy of Zoos & Others Keeping Elephants in Captivity (**A disclaimer about this category …elephants in captivity). While there are some Zoos & others that demonstrate exemplary methods of elephant care, unfortunately, they do not represent the “lion’s share”. ) And this category does not include the elephant sanctuary, true/reputable elephant sanctuaries, of course.


Image: AWW (19)


One thought on “A Zoo Elephant’s Road to Freedom, A Look Back, Part 2: Ele Facts; Kaavan & Saheli, At Least They Had Each Other For a Little While

  1. Pingback: A Zoo Elephant’s Road to Freedom, A Look Back, Part 1: Animated Video Brings Kaavan the Elephant’s Story to Life in a Beautiful Way | Elephant Spoken Here

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