The 'world's loneliest elephant', known as Kaavan, met I got you babe singer, Cher, in a Pakistan zoo before he was set to leave
for his new home in a Cambodian sanctuary.
After several years of campaigning by animal activists, including American singer and actress Cher, who helped to secure his trip to the Cambodian sanctuary, Kaavan was finally on his way to retire in a better place.
The overweight Asian bull elephant, has languished in a zoo in Islamabad for 35 years. Now he will be sent to a 25,000-acre wildlife sanctuary in Siem Reap in northwestern Cambodia.
The 74-year-old singer and Oscar-winning actress, arrived in Pakistan after she helped free him from a zoo for a new home. Earlier this year, Kaavan was diagnosed by veterinarians as both overweight and malnourished, and also suffers behavioural issues. Cher spent days at the Islamabad zoo to provide moral support to the elephant. She also met with Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday, and his office released a video of the singer sitting with the Khan outside on the expansive grounds of his residence.
The horrible treatment Kaavan was receiving at the dilapidated facility sparked an uproar from animal rights groups. Cher also initiated a social media campaign in order to save him.
Zoo officials did however deny in the past that Kaavan was kept in substandard conditions or chained, claiming instead the creature was pining for a new mate after his partner, Saheli, passed away in 2012.
However, Kaavan's behaviour showed signs of distress, such as continual head-bobbing, which raised serious concerns of mental illness. Activists also claimed that Kaavan was not provided proper shelter from Islamabad's searing summer temperatures.
In a statement, Cher thanked her charity, Free The Wild, saying; "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."
Rights groups and conservationists stated that the abysmal conditions at the Islamabad zoo was also a result of the lack of legislation in Pakistan aimed at protecting animal welfare. However, due to Kaavan's case and the awful conditions at the zoo, a judge ordered all animals to be moved. The Pakistan's high court also ordered the closure of Marghazar Zoo earlier this year.
“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.
“Celebrities lending their voices to good causes are always welcomed, as they help starting public discourse and raising pressure on responsible authorities,” Bauer continued.
A team of vets and experts from Four Paws have spent months working with Kaavan to get him ready for the trip to Cambodia, which has included training the elephant to enter the massive metal transport crate that will be placed in a cargo plane for the seven-hour flight.
Experts spent hours loading a slightly sedated Kaavan into a specially constructed metal crate. Kaavan will then be sent via a Russian transport jumbo jet all the way to northwestern Cambodia.
Officials also confirmed that Kaavan will initially be kept in a small designated section of the park where he can see other elephants.
Climate change minister, Malik Amin Aslam, stated that; “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.”
Friends of Kaavan threw a farewell party before he was relocated by decorating the zoo with balloons for the occasion, including banners wishing the animal well. “We will miss you Kaavan,” the one sign read.
Kaavan is the only Asian elephant in Pakistan and was therefore dubbed by the press as the "world's loneliest elephant".
"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," Rab Nawaz with the World Wildlife Federation in Pakistan, concluded.