The famous singer, Cher was recently in Pakistan to join what is said to be the ‘world’s loneliest elephant’ on his long-awaited journey to freedom.
Meet Kaavan, the elephant
The elephant named Kaavan finally escaped the confines of a zoo in Islamabad and was well on his way to the Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary in Cambodia on Monday, 30 November. Once he completes his quarantine, the plan is to introduce him to three female elephants, where he’ll have 25 000 acres to roam.
According to CBS, Cher campaigned for years to get Kaavan out of the Marghazar Zoo. Along with US businessman Eric Margolis and the group Four Paws International, she helped pay for his relocation through her charity, Free the Wild. Local Pakistani activists first put Kaavan’s plight on Cher’s radar with a Twitter campaign, aiming messages with the hashtag #SaveKaavan and #FreeKaavan at celebrities worldwide.
Kaavan was gifted to Pakistan by Sri Lanka in the mid-1980s when he was just one-year-old. He spent decades at the Islamabad zoo in a small enclosure with few of the amenities required for the physical or mental health of an animal of such high intelligence. He performed for visitors, reportedly prodded by handlers to collect cash.
In 2012, Kaavan lost his only companion, a female elephant called Saheli, and his demeanour rapidly deteriorated. He became angry, despondent, and given his unhealthy diet, obese. The conditions were so dire at the zoo that a Pakistani court ordered it to be shut down in May 2020, and all the animals to be relocated. That sparked a global effort to evacuate the animals, and especially Kaavan.
When news of Kaavan’s grim circumstances reached Cher on Twitter, she reached out to Mark Cowne, a global talent agency boss with a passion for wildlife whom she had met years earlier.
Cher’s assistant Jennifer Ruiz later told CBS that they originally focused her efforts on trying to get an elephant out of the Los Angeles Zoo, but they’ve had no success so far in California.
“So this came up and, you know, she always tells me, ‘you do your best with what falls in your lap.’ If someone asks you, you try to do your best.”
Free the Wild
Teaming up with Free the Wild, a team of vets and experts from the UK-based international animal welfare group Four Paws has spent months on-site, working with Kaavan to prepare him for his big move.
Four Paws’ head of communications Hannah Baker told CBS News that Kaavan’s journey is the biggest elephant transfer the charity has ever undertaken and their first by plane. Elephants have been moved by plane from one state to another in the US, for instance, but never an animal as large, or a move as logistically complicated, as this.