A 35-year-old elephant named Kaavan, said to be the “loneliest elephant in the world”, saw his future change for the better this week, as the isolated animal was transferred to a wildlife sanctuary to be reunited with his own kind. Kaavan had been kept in substandard conditions at a zoo in Pakistan, which fueled global outrage, but following a campaign spearheaded by Four Paws and backed by the one and only Cher, the attention-starved animal has been relocated to Cambodia with hopes he’ll make some friends.
Kaavan first came to Pakistan when he was 1 year old as a gift from Sri Lanka and he's been at the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad ever since. In the 1990s, he had a female companion called Saheli but she passed away in 2012, leaving Kaavan devastated as he reportedly mourned by her side for days following her death. Elephants are highly social and intelligent creatures and, much like people, don't do well when kept on their own for long periods of time. It's been feared by animal rights groups for years that Kaavan was suffering from his isolation, earning him his unfortunate title as the world's loneliest elephant.
Shipping an adult elephant such a distance is no mean feat, but Kaavan is said to have tackled the journey like a champ, continuing to snooze and eat for the duration. Kaavan was described as behaving like a “frequent flier” by Amir Khalil, a vet with Four Paws, who had been preparing Kaavan for his journey with the help of Frank Sinatra.
“In the past weeks, I have spent almost every day with Kaavan, talking and singing Frank Sinatra songs to him,” said Khalil in a statement. “This may seem absurd to outsiders, but it allowed me to build a close relationship with the elephant. Now he is ready to work with his trainer. As his personal physician, I will not leave Kaavan's side during his entire journey.”
According to the Four Paws website, Kaavan was not sedated during the transfer so keeping him calm while in flight was paramount for safety. Getting such a large animal into a crate and onto a cargo plane is certainly easier said than done but the flight was reported to be “uneventful” seeing Kaavan eventually make a safe landing at Siem Reap in Cambodia.
Waiting for him on the runway was a star-studded welcome party, as American singer, actor, and icon Cher had arrived to applaud Kaavan’s arrival. “It fills me with incredible joy to see that Kaavan's suffering is finally coming to an end,” said Cher, co-founder of Free The Wild, in a statement. “I cannot wait to bring him to Cambodia together with the FOUR PAWS team. For the past four years my partners in Free The Wild – Mark, Gina and I – have been working tirelessly to achieve this moment. ‘Free Kaavan’ will soon no longer be just a hashtag, but reality. And that makes me extremely proud and happy.”
Kaavan will join a group of elephants at the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary with support from the non-profit organization Free The Wild. Co-founder Cher has been a part of the fight to relocate Kaavan since 2016 and his departure from the country marks the last Asian elephant to leave Pakistan. The Marghazar Zoo, Islamabad, where Kaavan was previously located is set for closure but Four Paws are still working on campaigns to rehouse the remaining monkeys and deer as well as two bears named Susie and Bubloo. You can find out more about how you can help with their relocation here.