Cher went to Pakistan to meet the ‘world’s loneliest elephant’ before he was relocated to a sanctuary in Cambodia to live out his retirement.
Animal rights activist groups aim to ensure “animal welfare” and “animal protection”, claiming that to deny the most basic needs of non-human animals is a form of discrimination akin to sexism and racism.
They maintain that we should all treat animals with the respect they deserve, not to violate their right to live in freedom in their natural habitat, and not treat them as a means to achieve some human end.
These groups have won numerous battles over the last several years, to the delight of many. Now, after many years of campaigning, the ‘world’s loneliest elephant’ will leave the Pakistan zoo, and live out his retirement in a sanctuary in Cambodia.
American singer and actress Cher was among the numerous animal activists fighting for his right to a better life and helped a lot for him to be relocated from the zoo. The elephant, Kaavan, is an overweight Asian bull elephant, that has languished in a zoo in Islamabad for 35 years.
The poor animal had been forced to entertain crowds while kept in captivity and beg for money from zoo visitors while being prodded with bull hooks by his handlers.
Plus, he lost his partner in 2012. According to experts, elephants are similar to humans, and experience the same emotions as us, form strong bonds with their companions and mourn them when they die.
Fortunately, those terrible days have come to an end. Now, he will be moved to a new place, a 25,000-acre wildlife sanctuary located in Siem Reap in northwestern Cambodia, to live out his retirement surrounded by other elephants.
The famous singer and Oscar-winning actress, aged 74, recently arrived in Pakistan, and has spent the past days at the Islamabad zoo to give him moral support.
- After helping to secure his relocation to a sanctuary in Cambodia, this is the moment Cher met the ‘world’s loneliest elephant’ in a Pakistan zoo
- Kaavan is an overweight Asian bull elephant, that has lived in horrible conditions in Islamabad for 35 years, and lost his partner in 2012.
Earlier this year, the vets diagnosed him as both overweight and malnourished. He also has behavioral issues.
Kaavan’s bad treatment at the zoo led to fierce criticism by animal rights groups and an intensive social media campaign by Cher.
While thanking her charity Free The Wild, she stated:
‘My wishes have finally come true. We have been counting down to this moment and dreaming of it for so long and to finally see Kaavan transported out of (the Islamabad) zoo will remain with us forever.’
Kaavan’s case and the miserable conditions at the zoo convinced a judge to order all the animals to be relocated. In May, Pakistan’s high court ordered the closure of Marghazar Zoo in the capital of Islamabad, which was Kaavan’s home for most of his life.
Cher made it her mission to secure Kaavan a new home where he can be free and revel in the company of other elephants.
- Cher met with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad, who thanked her for her efforts
- Volunteers paint an image of an elephant on the crate which was used to transport Kaavan to the wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia
Martin Bauer, a spokesman for Four Paws International -- an animal welfare group that has spearheaded the relocation effort, said:
“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.”
Mr. Bauer pointed out celebrities’ power to make a change and help animals. He added that their efforts are always welcomed, as “they help starting public discourse and raising pressure on responsible authorities.”
- A slightly sedated Kaavan was coaxed into a specially constructed metal crate, which was hoisted onto a lorry and taken to Islamabad airport.
The experts enticed the slightly sedated elephant into a specially constructed metal crate for hours, and they even used ropes to help pull him in and put him onto a lorry that would take him to Islamabad airport.
From there, Kaavan will have a long flight to Siem Reap in northwestern Cambodia, via a Russian transport jumbo jet. The plane will stop in New Delhi for fuel.
Before this trip, Cher spent several days in Islamabad to visit the elephant, and Prime Minister Imran Khan personally thanked her. His office released a video of the star sitting with him outside his residence.
Cher was expected to fly to Cambodia to be there when the elephant arrives. Officials said Kaavan will initially be settled in a small designated section of the park where he will be in touch with other elephants.
Climate change minister Malik Amin Aslam said:
“Sending him to a place where he can be with other elephants of his kind … is really the right choice. We will be happy to see him happy in Cambodia and we hope he finds a partner very soon.”
- For months, vets and experts from animal welfare group Four Paws International worked with Kaavan to get him ready for the trip to Cambodia
Before his relocation, Kaavan’s friends threw a farewell party.
They decorated the zoo with banners and balloons, with one of the signs saying:
“We will miss you Kaavan.”
Labeled by the press as the ‘world’s loneliest elephant’, Kaavan is the only Asian elephant in Pakistan – the small number of other elephants at other zoos are African.
A group of vets and experts from Four Paws worked for months to prepare him for the trip. That included training him to enter the huge metal transport crate that will be put in a cargo plane for the seven-hour-long flight.
- Before his departure, the elephant’s friends threw a farewell party
In the past, zoo officials have denied that the animal was kept in poor conditions or chained. They claimed the elephant was suffering for a new mate after his partner, Saheli, who also arrived from Sri Lanka, passed away in 2012.
However, the animal’s actions -- including signs of distress like continual head-bobbing -- raised suspicions of mental illness.
Activists also claimed that Kaavan was not properly protected from the extreme summer temperatures. Rights groups and conservationists explained that the terrible conditions at the Islamabad zoo were partly a result of the lack of animal welfare laws in Pakistan.
Rab Nawaz with the World Wildlife Federation in Pakistan said:
“There’s a lot of improvement to be made. Kaavan is just one animal. There’s lots of animals in Pakistan… which are in miserable conditions.”
Cher intends to share the story of Kaavan by producing a documentary on his rescue mission with the Smithsonian Channel, which is scheduled to be released next year.
She posted an emotional video of the elephant’s journey to freedom on Twitter, and asked for help to build his forever home. She shared a link to a fundraising page in an attempt to raise $50,000 (£37,500) to help with building Kaavan’s quarantine enclosure in Cambodia.