Four Paws Team’s Observations Regarding Kaavaan at the Islamabad Zoo

Dr Frank Goeritz, Head Veterinarians IZW & Senior scientist, Department of Reproduction Management, IZW and Dr. Arnir Khalil, Director of Project Development of Four Paws (FP), were consulted and invited to Pakistan to visit Islamabad from December 16 to 19, 2016 to assess the conditions of the wild animals currently kept at Islamabad Zoo, with the main’ focus on the Asian bull elephant “Kaavan”. During their stay, they visited the zoo three times and also met with several CDA and other officials in Islamabad.

The team was of the opinion that Kaav·an’s actual physical condition is good and his health status is not alarming, but he displays signs of neglected body-/food care program (e.g. overgrown cuticles, eye discharge, cracked nails,) and an advanced stereotypic behavior.  Therefore, it is imperative to train the animal.

The team is of the opinion that a training program (“protected contact” management system) should be implemented immediately after reconstruction of the elephant facility to ensure routine body care and basic medical check-up’s (e.g. food trimming, blood collection) as well as to provide simple veterinary care (e.g., injections, treatment of cracked nails, wound and eye treatments, rectal enemas) to prevent disease manifestation and rapid decline of Kaavan’s general health condition. The local veterinarian asked the foreign ministry of Sri Lanka officially for help by sending experienced mahouts to Pakistan to train the local staff, but authorities never replied (personal communication).

Although it has been reported that Kaavan’s general health condition improved within the last two years, initiated by international media to raise awareness of animal welfare in Pakistan, its husbandry currently does not meet international standards. Efforts are needed to provide species-specific keeping conditions necessary (i) for housing  an  adult  bull  elephant  safely,  both for  the animal  and  for  the people (elephant personal and visitors/public), (ii) to ensure a good health status on a long term and (iii) to improve the animal welfare.

Changes  in  enclosure  design  and  in  animal  training  are  mandatory  to ensure   safe   confinement   of   Kaavan   and   to   facilitate   “behavioral enrichment programs” to stimulate Kaavan mentally to counteract/reduce/stop his stereotypic behavior (weaving), respectively.

There was mutual agreement that after further consultations with international experts VP will clearly communicate the results of the assessment.

Furthermore,  Four Paws expressed its willingness to offer help_ (e.g. know-how, logistics, equipment, manpower) either to improve the conditions of Kaavan here at the zoo (preferred scenario) or if this is not possible within the next six month, to translocate him to another facility (e.g. sanctuary, rehabilitation centre, zoo) within or outside of the country.  VP is curious to an open dialog and will support the decision which is best for the health and well being of Kaavan, the last remaining Asian elephant in Pakistan.

Description and Animal Condition

     Kept species/subspecies Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), state gift from Sri Lanka
     Number, Sex, Name(s) 1 male, “Kaavan”
     What documents are available? (CITES, Veterinary pass) CITES not proved; ID/microchip – not proved,

health certificate (free of certain transmissible diseases) – not proved

     Relationship of group members(mother with cubs, siblings, unrelated, unknown) No group members, lives solitary – Kaavan is the only Asian elephant in Pakistan
     (Estimated) Age 32 years old
     (Estimated) Weight in kg

     (Estimated) size in m

~4,500 – 5,000 kg

~2.80-2.90 m / ~9 ft

     Health condition indicators
o     Overall body condition

(skinny, normal, well fed)

Normal to well fed; overall good physical condition
o     Eyes (clear or shaded) Mild conjunctivitis shed tears – opaque to milky discharge/foam (left eye!); see Fig. 1
o     Condition of the skin NAD (only some less pigmented areas on lower legs indicating old chain lesions)
o     Condition of foot/feet Foot care is needed!; several cracked nails (left hind leg  and right front

leg) and overgrown cuticles; see Fig. 2

     Behavior
o       General (Active, passive, apathetic or under pain) Actually no signs of musth, BUT aggressive behavior have been reported towards the new elephant care taker; therefore the bull is not handled in direct contact!!!

Low locomotive activity; no explorative or comfort behavior observed (see also enclosure design in this table)

o       Stereotypic behavior (repetitive movement without any obvious reason or goal) Yes: occurs how often/long within minutes Yes, very severe (advanced stage) stereotypic behavior/mental disorder;

Almost constant head shaking (weaving); this pathological behavior stopped only when food was supplied!, see Fig. 3

o     Towards other elephants

(indifferent, calm, aggressive)

Not applicable, Kaavan is the only elephant;

(in the past he was kept together with a female without problems)

o    Towards humans

a) Visitors (indifferent /none, interested,  begging, aggressive, scared/ anxious?)

b) Keeper

a) indifferent, some begging

b) mild interest; head keeper can call up Kaavan from distance

Animal History

     Was the elephant born there?


o where is he from?

o What age was he taken

in/spearated from mother?

(handraised or natural raised; Which nutrition was used during hand-raising?)

o Why he was given away (f.e human attacks, other problems?)

No! Kaavan was born 1985 in Sri Lanka,

Kaavan was imported 1989 (when he was 4 years old) from Sri Lanka (date by personal communication, written records not seen!) as a governmental state gift donated to the past president of Islamic Republic of Pakistan,

In the past Kaavan was handled in direct contact (“hands on”) by the former mahout / elephant keeper team,

Leg chains were commonly used to restrain the animal permanently, Since last year Kaavan is off chains (mediated by increasing public pressure / social media) during day time and not managed in direct contact!

Figure 1: Mild conjunctivitis shed tears on left eye – opaque to milky discharge/foam
Figure 1: Mild conjunctivitis shed tears on left eye – opaque to milky discharge/foam
Figure 2: Several cracked nails (e.g. left leg, red circle) and overgrown cuticles (blue circle) on all feet
Figure 2: Several cracked nails (e.g. left leg, red circle) and overgrown cuticles (blue circle) on all feet
Figure 3: Feeding place/ diet less in fibre
Figure 3: Feeding place/ diet less in fibre
Figure 4: Unsafe enclosure border / possible escape point for Kaavan
Figure 4: Unsafe enclosure border / possible escape point for Kaavan

Actual Housing Conditions

Enclosure Indoor Outdoor
    Size of units [m² / sqft] 80.3 m2 / 864 sqft 1.487 m2 / 16,000 sqft
o    Units can be fully locked/separated No. one side open

(open shade only, no enclosure!)

Height is 5.5 m/18 ft (min 7.0 m/23 ft) Roof is destroyed!

One area only,

no possibility to separate/lock the elephant in an extra confined area

    Kind and quality of material Indoor Outdoor
o    Floor (concrete, natural, ground, other material) Compacted soil Compacted soil

No other natural loose substrate!

o    Walls (concrete, natural, ground, other material) Concrete
o    Fencing (mesh, iron bars, water or dry ditch, others) Concrete wall Dry moat with narrow concrete walls,

extra mesh fence to keep visitors away, Barriers are not appropriate to guarantee employees and visitors safety (see Fig. 4) & the existing dry moat is deep, narrow-sided (not wide enough for Kaavan to turn around), hard- bottomed and therefore dangerous for himwhen he falls into the moat!!!!

o    Electrical fencing no no
     Inventory and furnishing
o    Straw, wood-chips, sand or other material None None
o    Pool / wet and dry wallows None None

Outdoor pool present, but without water

o    Trees, logs, bushes, rocks, tires, other structures None None

Care and Handling of Animals

     Feeding
a.   Feeding event could be


b.   Information was given by staff/owner

a.   Yes

b.   Yes

o    Direct contact with keeper/ owner No
o    Kind /diversity of food

(vegetables, fruits, bread, corn,

meat, fish, other)

Mainly sugar cane (~5 kg/day) and fruits (banana, apples, ~8kg/day),

Fine cut Rhodes grass?

No tree branches / leafs or other browse!

o    Quality of food (fresh, average quality, rotten/moldy) Average
o    Feeding intervals (daily, weekly, irregular) Daily
o    Visitors allowed to feed No
o    Drinking water supply (always access to water, water quality (fresh/dirty)) Daily,

BUT no permanent (ad libitum) access to drinking water

o    Enrichment provided

(balls, feeding tools, elements to play with)

     Breeding Not proven breeder, actual reproductive status unknown

Specific Recommendations to Improve Safety and Quality of Kaavan’s Husbandry

(According to AZA and other international standards of elephant management and care)

  1. Necessary measures for safety and containment (highest priority!)

1. New Fencing:       Elephant containment barriers must be (i) sufficient to prevent elephant escapes, (ii) safe for elephants, (iii) able to withstand a bull elephant’s strength and (iv) must prohibit direct contact between elephant and employee/visitors.  The existing dry moat is deep, hard-bottomed and narrow-sided and therefore can pose a substantial threat to the elephant, metal poles with horizontal steel cables equipped with additional hot wires/electric fence is recommended as new barrier surrounding the outside enclosure. A recommended minimum height for adult elephants is 3.1 m/10 ft. The dry moat can stay in function to keep distance between elephant and visitors.

2. Division of outside enclosure/exhibit:    The exhibit should be divided by two middle fences (providing a service road/area in between) in two parts (see Appendix III, schematic drawing). The two parts are connected by the ERD (see 1.3.).

3. Installment of an Elephant Restraint Device (ERD)/training cage/chute:    ERD must effectively restrict the movement of an elephant while simultaneously allowing elephant care staff access to the elephant for veterinary and husbandry procedures. The ERD should be in function and training initiated a.s.a.p.  On behalf of FP I already contacted a company providing and modify professional ERD’s (see Appendix IV, flyer of a training cage developed and manufactured by the company EKIPA, Netherlands). The owner of the company is able and willing to set up the ERD at the Islamabad Zoo as the main contractor.

Enclosure and Holding Space and Furnishings

2.1. Indoor facility should provide adequate room for Kaavan to move around and to lie down without restrictions on soft bedding (e.g. loose sand, wood chips etc.). Mature animals can reach over 6.0 m/20 ft vertically and ceiling heights must exceed this distance. Provisions should be made to protect animals from adverse weather, intense sunlight etc. Indoor facilities should be capable to maintain 16°C (65 degree F). Cave – In January, February average night outside temperature is around 4°C, sometimes freezing reported, see Fig. 8

Interior barn surface should be impervious to water, and cleaned thoroughly and disinfected on a daily basis.

The existing shade has to be reconstructed accordingly to be used as indoor enclosure!

2.2. Outdoor habitat surfaces must be made of a variety of hard and soft natural substrates (e.g. soil, sand, grass) to promote normal wear of footpads and behaviors, such as foraging, wallowing, bathing, digging, and resting. Both wet and dry wallows are encouraged to assist with skin care and protection against the sun and biting insects.

2.3. Enclosure furnishing / behavioral enrichment

A key consideration in the design of elephant habitats is the promotion of species-appropriate

behavior. Enrichment opportunities should be integral part of indoor and outdoor enclosures. They should encourage locomotion for exercise (e.g. spatial and temporal dispersal of food presentation, opportunities for searching, browsing, grazing, opening, reaching elevated feeders such as hanging hay nets, scatter-feeding, rocks and big logs for climbing etc.) and comfort behavior (e.g. rubbing, scent marking, digging, mud bathing etc.).

 Husbandry and Medical Training

The key to keeping elephants healthy and treating them when they are sick relies on the ability to monitor, test and administer health care and treatment.

Kaavan must be trained to permit a complete body exam daily and to allow successful completion of all necessary care and husbandry procedures (e.g. scrub and treat skin, trim all feet, eye exam, ear exam, mouth exam, tooth exam, tusk exam and tusk trim, blood collection, urine collection, rectal palpation and enema, transrectal ultrasound, accept injections, oral medications, leg restraint etc.).

FP is looking for an elephant expert coming to Pakistan for 4-6 weeks to install and start a training program for both, the elephant and care takers! Furthermore, the Zoo veterinarian was invited to be part of a workshop in Thailand in March 2017 (Title: Modern wildlife medicine in big cats).

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