Following years of public outcry and campaigning by Oscar-winning American singer and actor Cher, Kaavan the elephant was set to to embark on a journey from Pakistan to a sanctuary in Cambodia on Sunday.
The 35-year-old bull elephant's miserable condition in an Islamabad zoo had sparked an uproar from animal rights groups in the country and abroad.
A special cargo plane was arranged to transport Kaavan to a wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia, where authorities have made arrangements for his arrival.
The Cambodian sanctuary houses more than 80 elephants and is equipped with experts and other related facilities.
Cher, who is financing half of the cost of Kaavan's journey, visited Pakistan to oversee the elephant's departure. She also met with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and other government officials on Friday.
"Thanks to Cher and also to local Pakistani activists, Kaavan's fate made headlines around the globe and this contributed to the facilitation of his transfer," said Martin Bauer, a spokesman for Four Paws International, an animal welfare group that has spearheaded the relocation effort.
Cher "has quite a big platform so we have really appreciated what she has done for Kaavan since 2016," he added.
Read more: Pakistan: Rising cases of animal cruelty anger activists
Kaavan had been living in poor conditions in a small enclosure at Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad for more than three decades. His mate, Saheli, died in 2012, allegedly due to negligence and poor treatment by zoo authorities.
Activists around the world campaigned for Kaavan's release, accusing Islamabad zookeepers of keeping him isolated, chained up, and not providing the large animal with proper shelter and relief during hot summer months. They also fought a long legal battle for his freedom.
In May, a court in the capital Islamabad ordered authorities to release the animal and find a suitable sanctuary for him. The ruling also saw the Pakistani judges ordering the relocation of dozens of other animals, including lions, bears, and birds, until the zoo improves the animals' living conditions.
Kaavan had arrived in Islamabad from Sri Lanka as a young calf in 1985, as a gift from Colombo to the former dictator General Zia ul-Haq. In 2002, zookeepers said he was being temporarily chained due to increasingly violent behavior. He was freed later that year, but the zoo officials later apparently returned to the practice.
Rampant animal cruelty
Animal rights activists say that Pakistan's Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1890) is outdated. Even though animal cruelty was instated as a punishable offense in the country earlier this year, rescue workers say fines alone cannot deter abuse.
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"There's a lot of improvement to be made," said Rab Nawaz with the World Wildlife Federation in Pakistan.
"Kaavan is just one animal. There's lots of animals in Pakistan... which are in miserable conditions," he added.
Zahra Yaqoob Khan, founder of the Saving Life on Paws online rescue initiative, told DW about the widespread animal abuse in the country by both individuals and government institutions.
"The Capital Development Authority (CDA) in Islamabad mercilessly shoots or poisons dozens of stray dogs at a time. This kind of cruelty makes people insensitive towards animals," said Khan, adding that the government needs to invest in a countrywide animal rights awareness program.
shs/aw (dpa, AFP)