Free The Wild Update - July 2019
Free The Wild is a wildlife welfare charity that works towards improving the quality of life for wild animals in captivity and, where possible, rehabilitating and releasing them back into their natural habitats.
Sounds simple, right? Theoretically, it is – to improve a zoo or sanctuary, all you need are willing owners and the funds to better their facilities, train their staff and employ qualified vets.
Free The Wild is new, in the grand scheme of things, but the team has been involved in animal welfare and conservation for the majority of their lives. That, together with an international pool of experts, Cher as our patron and our connections with other leading international animal and wildlife organisations gives us the know-how and the ability to perform our duties.
This leads us to Kaavan, the last Asian Elephant in Pakistan, held in extremely poor conditions at Marghazar Zoo, Islamabad – also known as Islamabad Zoo. For those of you who aren’t aware of Kaavan, his suffering was ultimately what led Cher and her co-founders Mark Cowne and Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne to establish Free The Wild in the first place. As a result, his wellbeing has been of the utmost importance to the organization thus far.
We’ve been working on this particular elephant’s release for nearly two years, negotiating terms with the zoo’s board, building reports on the quality of their facilities, sending elephant experts to determine his mental and physical health and dealing directly with the Pakistan government. During the process, we have succeeded in having Kaavan released from the chains that bound him to his concrete enclosure for the last 25 years. His enclosure is relatively large for a zoo – about the size of two football pitches – so at least now he can move around freely, bathe and and drink at his convenience – a luxury that many of the other animals in the zoo aren’t afforded.
Thanks to the support of nearly twenty thousand people in those two years, FTW has managed to get the Pakistan government and Islamabad zoo to admit that Kaavan's living conditions are substandard and agree that his wellbeing rests firmly on his release. Unfortunately, however, we are still in negotiation with the zoo’s management, the Mayor of Islamabad and the Pakistan government and waiting for them to sign the MoU (Memorandum of Understanding), detailing the terms of our negotiation. Ultimately, this MoU should give us the authority to release Kaavan into an elephant sanctuary in Cambodia.
Amidst Pakistan’s ambiguous responses and otherwise echoing silence, we’ve been working on solutions for Marghazar Zoo as a whole, to completely renovate their facilities and make life safer and more comfortable for the zoo’s ±600 animal residents. We aim to clean, enlarge and re-landscape the enclosures, retrain the staff and employ freelance and permanent animal healthcare professionals as well as provide the right food, medical treatment and bedding for all of the creatures residing there.
This renovation would not only improve the quality of life for those animals, but also slow the alarmingly high rate of animal mortality at the zoo. The improvements would lead to stable jobs for the local community, a more beautiful space for tourists to visit and better education for those visitors on the importance of conservation – altogether laying the groundwork for Free The Wild to create greater change globally.
Further to Kaavan’s plight, there are hundreds of other animals at Islamabad Zoo that are living in equally bad or even worse conditions – most recently, you may have seen social media posts about the sick brown bear being kept in a squeeze cage. The zoo is also home to lions, wolves, pelicans, crocodiles and more, all of whom don’t have the space, the right food, access to water or the social interactions they need to stay mentally fit and healthy, let alone live happily.