A 36-year-old elephant who garnered worldwide sympathy after being dubbed “the world’s loneliest elephant” will be turning the page on a dark chapter of his life and enjoying brighter days ahead at a renowned sanctuary in Cambodia, thanks to the hard-fought efforts of U.S. pop star Cher.
Kaavan had long been Pakistan’s only Asian elephant, and suffered from poor health and wretched conditions at a dilapidated zoo in Islamabad, where the bull elephant was unable to exercise and gained excessive weight while living in a structure decried by animal rights groups as totally inappropriate.
Now relocated to Cambodia, Kaavan will now make the province of Oddar Meanchey his home, where he will live in a special wildlife sanctuary along with 600 other elephants.
“Cambodia is pleased to welcome Kaavan. No longer will he be ‘the world’s loneliest elephant,’” Cambodia’s deputy environment minister, Neth Pheaktra, said. “We expect to breed Kaavan with local elephants – this is an effort to conserve the genetic fold.”
When Kaavan’s companion died in 2012, the suffering pachyderm was forced to contend with isolation and descended into “zoochosis” – a type of mental illness brought about by miserable living conditions and solitude, reports BBC. Scarred both mentally and physically, he soon earned the ignominious title of the “world’s loneliest animal.”
However, after years of suffering in silence, animal rights groups turned Kavaan’s plight into a cause célèbre – with Cher using her social media clout and the wildlife protection group she co-founded, Free the Wild, to back the campaign in 2016.
“I thought, ‘how can I fix this? How can I save an elephant who’s been shackled to a shed for 17 years and who is a thousand miles away?’,” Cher said in a statement distributed by the Smithsonian Channel, which is filming a documentary about Kaavan. “This is Free The Wild’s first big rescue and I am so proud.”
When Islamabad’s High Court finally shuttered the zoo over its squalid conditions and issued an order freeing Kaavan in May, granting animal welfare group Four Paws International (FPI) permission to relocate the creature, Cher called it one of the “greatest moments” in her life.
For years, Four Paws has worked alongside Cher and Free the Wild to secure Kaavan’s release.
Ahead of his trip on Monday, Cher was filmed serenading Kaavan in Pakistan with her classic song, “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes.”
On Monday, Kaavan and Cher arrived in Cambodia and were greeted with fanfare from animal conservationists and officials.
“I’m so happy and I am so proud he is here,” Cher told AFP at Siem Reap airport. “He’s a wonderful, wonderful animal.”
Kaavan had a peaceful flight and conducted himself “like a frequent flyer” during the journey from Pakistan, said Four Paws veterinarian Dr. Amir Khalil. Kaavan even ate and slept during the “uneventful” flight and showed no signs of stress, reports the Guardian.
On Friday, prior to the journey to Cambodia, Cher met Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and thanked him on Twitter “for making it possible for me to take Kaavan to Cambodia.”
In a statement from Khan’s office, the prime minister and former cricket superstar extended an invitation to Cher to continue engaging in environmental initiatives in Pakistan.
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