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

A Zoo Elephant’s Road to Freedom, A Look Back: Part 5: Kaavan is Finally Home

There is no better feeling in the world than to witness the best of humanity and the rescue of a zoo elephant. Dr. Amir Khalil, kindness radiates from your soul to the soul of that elephant, our elephant Kaavan. This is Dr. Khalil’s interview with TRT World Now, as Kaavan is finally home.

TRT World Now Anchor: “Amir Khalil is the Director of Project Development at FOUR PAWS International (1). He joins us from Kaavan’s new home (Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary (2)). So great to have you on the program with us. You know, I know that you spent many months with Kaavan and you even travelled with him. So how is he doing now that he has finally arrived in his new home?

Amir Khalil: “Uh, thanks at first for the opportunity and good evening. Kaavan, uh, for the situation where he is now, I think he is calm, uh, he is curious. He changed the weather or the climate, within a few hours, uh, during the night. Now he have also the opportunity to have three female beside him so he is doing much better and we are looking forward in the coming days that he recognized his new situation, his new area and he is final to be an elephant and to be retired. To be just an objective (sic) or a show for some visitor at the zoo… finally he would be an elephant and retired.



Anchor: “It it is such a great story and it really captured, uh, you know, people’s attention around the world… But, uh, you know, what are the most immediate needs, uh, and concerns that you have for Kaavan now that he has arrived because he is, uh, as we heard in that story, uh, he is overweight, he does have some health problems. Correct?”

Amir: “Yes. Uh, at first Kaavan needs, uh, urgent attention to his feet, nails… You know elephant feets are very sensitive and really he have strong cracks in his nails. This needs urgent medical attention. Also the strong stereotype behavior need special attention with enrichment. But mainly often this elephant was overweight. We started since few weeks to change his diet. He was over five and a half ton, now he is already a little less than five ton. So he become to be faster, quicker and a naughty boy. 

But also as you mentioned in your report elephant… it was very difficult to to forgot but also elephant can forgive due to the good treatment he received and the attention in the last months as Kaavan to be a musician. He become to be calm with music. He is really very intelligent animal and very social animal and I think all what he is missing now to be an elephant and not to be entertained by human. But to be with other Asian elephants like him.”




Anchor: “You know we saw that that touching video of Kaavan reaching out with his trunk to greet another elephant upon his arrival. Is that a good sign that he is already making connections with other elephants and what kind of psychological, uh, rehabilitation will he get after such a long stay in isolation?

Amir: “I think after so much years, over thirty years chained, this is a huge quality frame. I think he get incredible pain and mental disturbance. But to be beside other elephants I think this will be the main treatment for him, uh, that he can speak their language, he can talk with them. I think he will do well. He needs some months (unintelligible) I hope. 

And after this we believe and we hope… we work very hard that he will be re-socialized with this three female elephant and they will be released in about 32,000 acre land which will be enough for this four elephant together to where there will be a pride, or a family because… a really, very very social animal.” 


“Kaavan makes friends at new stomping ground in Cambodia” Note: See Kaavan at his new home on this creative commons video: 0:27 to 1:00, 1:08 to 2:20, & 5:45 to 6:19; flashback to Kaavan at the Zoo he was rescued from (Kaavan splashes water at camera) 2:52 to 3:23 & 3:43 to 5:30


Anchor: “As I said you spent many months with Kaavan so you must have developed a special bond with him. Tell us about this and how long are you going to be staying with Kaavan in Cambodia for this transition period?”

Amir: “Uh, I work over thirty years with animals and world animals. This is my first case to build a bond with animal. Normally, uh, my small team will rescue animal from war zone or conflict zone, uh, but this is my first time… I never thought, uh, elephant will like my voice because I do not have really any musician or good (singing) voice or any talent. But minimum I have one fan which is Kaavan. Um, I become to be very touched with him. 

Uh, when I start to sing for him, or in fact I started to sing for me when I was bored with him, stay four hours to feed him to get his attention… so I was singing for Frank Sinatra ‘I Do It My Way’ and I notice that this elephant can cry… I know this elephant was missing connection or communication, And, uh, I saw this elephant start to build upon… I feel very sad for myself as a person, uh, that you will be in other place but I feel very, very glad for him that again he will be an elephant. 



But, I I never had such a bond with animals before I… I never observe an elephant can smile. I never observe an elephant that you have so incredible feeling and so much emotion and I learn it from Kaavan. He can forgive, he don’t forgot but he can forgive us. 

And this is what I noticed in the last weeksKaavan was able to to to be calm and accept others to feed him, before he was really angry, angry on us, and and this make me strongly believe in this word ‘hope’ and in this word of ‘humanity’ Because humanity is not to be kind only to human. 

Humanity means to be kind to human and to animal and to the nature. We cannot separate this world, Kaavan was an example which represents many thousand animals worldwide especially elephants in bad captivity. I think Kaavan give us example of how we can change and make the impossible to be possible. And he was very cooperative…”



Anchor: “Um, well as I said… Yeah, yeah go ahead, go ahead…”

Amir: “He was very cooperative in the airplane and cooperative during the transport. I think he felt something is going on. He was a fighter. He witnessed many things in Pakistan, many government changes, many situations. But at the end he was the first at the zoo and he is coming to be the last to leave the zoo…



Anchor: “Okay…”

Amir: “…This is very kind to see. How long I will stay in Cambodia? I will join him in the next days but I plan tour in the coming months to visit him and spend more time. And I hope next time he does not need me, I think… I hope in the next months he will have his own family and his own pride and I will see him from far away… I am never allowed to come near to him, he should be an elephant, wild again.”

Anchor: “Right, well it certainly would be a very happy ending and we are all so happy to see that he has arrived at his new, uh,home. Thank you so much, Amir Khalil, for your time.”




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

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

(3) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hs4JbRrZBA


Images & transcribed from: CC Video “Kaavan makes friends at new stomping ground in Cambodia” by TRT World Now (3)


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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.


One thought on “A Zoo Elephant’s Road to Freedom, A Look Back: Part 5: Kaavan is Finally Home

  1. Pingback: A Zoo Elephant’s Road to Freedom, A Look Back, Part 4: Ride Along With Kaavan as He is Transported From Airport to Sanctuary | Elephant Spoken Here

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