Please note: We recommend you read Part 3 before continuing.
Disclaimer: The sequence of events depicted in these articles is based on the true story of Kaavan the elephant, written from his point of view.
Halfway through my fourth year, the zoo received another animal delivery, this time bringing in a small female elephant. Her name was Saheli and she was a year younger than I was.
We were kept separate for the first few months, until the mahuts believed she was ready for her rider training. They brought us together, hoping that I would teach her most of what she needed to know. She was terrified all the time though, too scared to listen to instructions from the mahuts and too scared to know she could trust me. As a result, our first few sessions saw us both be beaten time and time again, until eventually Saheli realised that resistance was useless. It took them longer than with me, but they eventually broke her too.
We worked together, everyday for 14 years. Despite becoming ill, despite needing serious dental attention and walking on concrete until our feet bled, we toiled on, knowing full well that if we didn’t, we’d be beaten. The older and stronger we became, the harder the bull hooks were lashed. At least we were kept in the same pen, so our nights were spent huddled together. Most nights were uneventful, but occasionally they’d come in drunk and force us to do tricks, like sitting on command, lifting a leg or bowing. We did as they willed out of fear.
We didn’t take children anymore, well Saheli did, but I was tasked with carrying adults around the zoo, acting as a taxi for people to use between different sections of the facility. Flash photography didn’t bother me too much in the beginning, but during the popular months, there was so much that I would see those flashes in my dreams, drowning out the few memories I had left of my family and my home.
My fifteenth year at the zoo was the most horrific.
New management had been appointed as people were noticing that the animals were continually becoming ill and those that did would likely go on to die. There was a sense of eagerness amongst the animals because we knew the old management well, and thought that newcomers might see our struggles and do something to help.
Many people working at the zoo, including Saheli’s mahut, were asked to leave. They were to be replaced with new caretakers. However, Saheli’s mahut didn’t take kindly to this but, considering nobody else would be available to take care of the Saheli in his absence, she was to be chained to the ground until he was replaced.
Months went by.
My mahut would leave me with her in our quieter times, which was always so comforting for both of us. Thankfully he fed and watered her as well, but in being shackled for so long, she developed sores on her leg.
At first she didn’t complain, but whenever my mahut was nearby, she’d call out to him for attention, but he’d simply pat her head and walk away. He never noticed that her wounds had become infected – and even if he had, I doubt he’d have known what to do about it.
What followed is a sequence I struggle to recall. The stomach ache. The headache. The nausea. The vomiting. The diarrhoea. Nothing I did could console her. Nothing I did made her feel better. By nightfall, Saheli had collapsed onto her side. She was paralytic and struggling to breathe. By this time, a few onlookers had gathered as Saheli’s mahut preached, protesting that Saheli had become sick at the hand of the new management. I stood by Saheli’s side until management arrived and someone arranged to have her taken to the nearest vet.
It took some time for them tie the straps around her, especially as she could barely move. By this stage, I’d tried to intervene one too many times and so was forced back into my enclosure, watching on helplessly as a large crane lifted her lifeless body into the air. She had already died.
Following this, I made it clear that I’d no longer be working. At the slightest hint that I’d be expected to do anything, I retaliated. I didn’t care about the bull hooks, I didn’t care that I’d be shut away. I didn’t care that I’d be chained. I didn’t care anymore. No more rides, no more people. I was broken, once again. My closest companion and dearest friend died at the age of twenty.
For the next four years, I was constrained by a six-foot chain, bound to my right leg and put in a baron, concrete enclosure with a four-foot dry moat surrounding me.
I was fed and watered everyday, but other than that, my only social interaction was with the people on the other side of the fence, taking photographs and going about their days. Saheli was taken from me, as I was taken from my mother, and that was all I could think about, every single day.
If Kaavan could speak – Part 4 of 5
The donations Free The Wild receives will help us cover land and air transportation costs, veterinary care prior to and throughout his journey and the air fares for the vets and professionals responsible for his care. We are also continuing to raise funds in order to have Islamabad Zoo completely renovated and its staff retrained by qualified and highly experienced experts, albeit Kaavan’s release is our foremost priority.
We do not condone Islamabad Zoo’s current practices and are urgently working to have the facilities renovated to provide sanctuary to the animals that reside there.
Any help you can provide, whether it’s by sharing this post or by donating a small amount of money will help our cause immeasurably.
The more pressure we can put on Pakistan and the Zoo, the more likely we are to create a positive outcome for Kaavan and all the other animals that are currently held captive, and in dire need of care, at Islamabad Zoo.
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Free the Wild