Kaavan ended up in Pakistan from Sri Lanka's Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage (PEO) in 1985. His new home, the Marghuzar Zoo was fairly new at the moment, being built about seven years earlier. But, there was a power vacuum and no one seemed to care what happened in the zoo or to its animals.
During the days, Kaavan acted as an entertainer. His job was to stand at the fence to entertain the crowds during opening hours, raising his trunk as a begging bowl when his mahout, or handler, prodded him with a bullhook, passing him the money the crowd gave him.
Kaavan's nights were spent idling around his small half-acre enclosure, about the same size as half a football pitch and containing a hut with concrete floor.
Life for Kaavan wasn't happy but at least Kaavan was not lonely. For years, his constant companion was Saheli, an Urdu word for a 'female friend' - an elephant brought in from Bangladesh in the early 1990s.
Saheli died in 2012. The official version of events is that she died of a heart attack due to the hot weather, but Mohammad bin Naveed, a FIZ volunteer, alleges it was actually sepsis.
Kaavan had been acting increasingly aggressively in the years leading up to her death, not getting a chance to live in his natural environment. He spent prolonged periods in chains from 2000. And after she died, he got worse.
By the time the team from FPI arrived in 2016, they found an "aggressive" animal suffering from "zoochosis". He had "low locomotive activity, no explorative or comfort behaviour, advanced stage of stereotypical behaviour (constant bobbing of head)" and complete indifference to humans, "except some begging."
His physical condition was also deteriorating, FPI said, finding "mild conjunctivitis in the left eye, some less pigmented areas on lower legs indicating old chain lesions, several cracked nails and overgrown cuticles".
Kaavan was sick, that much was clear. He was also worryingly overweight, a result of the high sugar diet his keepers fed him. But no one wanted to lose the zoo's star attraction. What Kaavan needed, it turned out, was an even bigger star to come to his aid.
Cher, the Oscar-winning actress and singer, first learned of Kaavan's plight in 2016. Having co-founded Free the Wild, a wildlife protection charity, she hired a legal team to press for the elephant's freedom, according to BBC.
When the court order freeing him was announced in May, the singer called it one of the "greatest moments" of her life.
But the fight for Kaavan and the other animals in the zoo was not over. The problem was tossed from one department to another, before finally ending up in Islamabad's High Court. In June, the order came to close the zoo for good. But Kaavan's fate remained uncertain.
Hence, Four Paws International was invited to the country a second time and a new plan was hatched - to fly Kaavan across Asia to Cambodia, where he could live out the rest of his years in a "protected contact" sanctuary.
There was only one problem. Kaavan was an angry 30-something elephant with a weight problem. Neither the anger nor the weight leant itself to an easy journey to Cambodia.
However, Dr Amir Khalil, the Egypt-born head of the FPI team, stumbled his way into a solution.
The team needed to make security arrangements so they could safely assess Kaavan's physical health, which meant Dr Khalil and a colleague had to keep the elephant in another part of the pen, requiring them to stand around for hours waiting.
And something extraordinary happened while Dr Khalil started singing. Kaavan slowly started taking an interest in his voice.
Soon, Kaavan could be seen eating out of Dr Khalil's hands, hugging him with his trunk as he took a bath at the pond while his new friend sang along one of his favourite songs from the traditional pop era being played on a portable sound system.
Not long after, this once-aggressive elephant happily followed Dr Khalil and his colleagues into the crate which had been specially designed to carry his five-and-a-half tonne weight on an eight-hour flight to Cambodia.
And on Sunday, after 35 years of suffering at the hands of what Dr Khalil describes as a combination of "wrong management, lack of experienced staff, humanity mixing with business and money, and less attention to the welfare of animals", Kaavan will be taking flight.
Kaavan may still have problems overcoming his psychological issues and adjusting to a natural environment, his friend Dr Khalil says, but he "finally has a chance to be an elephant and to live in a place he can call home".