Elephant Kaavan stands under the cover of its shed at the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad. Cher performs on stage during her concert at 'Stadthalle' in Vienna, Austria. File / AFP
"We have just heard from Pakistan High Court Kaavan is free," the singer and animal rights campaigner tweeted on Thursday in capital letters, adding a string of emojis and saying she felt "sick."
"This is one of the greatest moments of my life," she said.
Outrage over the treatment of Kaavan at the capital's Islamabad Zoo went global several years ago with a petition garnering over 200,000 signatures after it emerged he was being chained up.
The Islamabad High Court ordered wildlife officials to consult with Sri Lanka, where the Asian elephant came from, to find him a "suitable sanctuary" within 30 days.
Kaavan stands under the cover of its shed behind a fence at the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad on Friday. AFP
"The pain and suffering of Kaavan must come to an end by relocating him to an appropriate elephant sanctuary, in or outside the country", the court ordered, criticising the zoo for failing to meet the animal's needs for the past three decades.
The court has also ordered dozens of other animals — including brown bears, lions and birds — to be relocated temporarily while the zoo improves its standards.
Zoo officials have in the past denied that the Kaavan was chained and said that he was just in need of a new mate after his partner died in 2012. But experts have told AFP previously that without a better habitat his future was bleak.
His behaviour — including signs of distress such as bobbing his head repeatedly — demonstrates "a kind of mental illness," Safwan Shahab Ahmad of the Pakistan Wildlife Foundation told AFP in 2016.
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Activists said he had insufficient shelter from Islamabad's searing summer temperatures, which can rise to above 40˚C.
Asian elephants can roam thousands of kilometres through deep tropical and subtropical forests, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
In contrast, Kaavan's 90 by 140 metre pen had almost no foliage, and only limited shade was provided.
The Nonhuman Rights Project, a US animal rights group, which has been campaigning for Kaavan, applauded the "bold step."
Arriving as a one-year-old in 1985 from Sri Lanka, Kaavan was temporarily held in chains in 2002 because zookeepers were concerned about increasingly violent tendencies, but he was freed later that year after an outcry.
His mate Saheli, who arrived also from Sri Lanka in 1990, died in 2012, and in 2015 it emerged that Kaavan was regularly being chained once more – for several hours a day.
Scores of people signed a petition sent to zoo authorities and Pakistan's then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in protest.
A second petition circulated in 2016 and backed by over 200,000 animal-lovers from across the globe demanded Kaavan's release to a sanctuary.
Cher, who for years has spoken out about his plight, tweeted her thanks to the Pakistani government, adding "it's so emotional for us that I have to sit down."
"The Islamabad zoo is now completely closed for both public and officials," Saleem Shaikh, a spokesman for Pakistan's ministry of climate change said.
"I am so proud he is here," she said, after greeting Kaavan through an opening at the base of the crate. "He's going to be really happy here," said Cher, adding that she was hopeful his ordeal was over.
Although no PCR test for the new coronavirus was conducted, zoo deputy director Kiran Saleem said the zoo believes the cubs were the victims of the pandemic that has killed 12,256 people in Pakistan.
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