Kaavan the elephant lived in the Marghazar zoo in Islamabad for nearly 30 years, where his “only companion” Saheli ᴅ.ɪ.ᴇd in 2012. Kaavan came to the country as a gift from Sri Lanka in 1985 when he was one year old and shared his enclosure with Saheli when she came to the zoo in 1990. After her ᴅᴇᴀᴛʜ, Kaavan was reported to be listless and even started showing signs of ᴍᴇɴᴛᴀʟ ɪʟʟness. He was ᴍᴀʟɴᴏᴜʀɪsʜ ᴇᴅ, his nails were overgrown, and he sᴜꜰꜰᴇʀed from ʙᴇʜᴀᴠɪᴏʀᴀʟ ᴘʀᴏʙʟᴇᴍs because of his time spent alone.
After Saheli’s ᴅᴇᴀᴛʜ, some people petitioned that Kaavan be freed. Kaavan’s sad story broke the hearts of many around the world, and it even caught the attention of American superstar Cher. Luckily, she decided to do everything she could to help him.
Cher, who is the co-founder of the NGO Free the Wild, wrote on Twitter that she saw a picture of Kaavan “shackled in a shed” and “unable to move.” She decided she had to do something to help. “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?’”
Earlier in October, the Islamabad High Court appointed a veterinarian from Four Paws, Dr Amir Khalil, with the responsibility of undertaking the logistical organisation to move Kaavan, whose rescue has been described as the “heaviest” the organisation has undertaken. Four Paws veterinarian Dr. Amir Khalil spent three months preparing Kaavan for the 10-hour journey. “Kaavan quickly gained confidence in us and made great progress in a short time,” he recalls. “In his case, it not only took a vɪʟʟage but a whole country to transfer Kaavan to Cambodia.”
In order to take him to Cambodia, more than 4,000 km away, a special crate was built for the elephant, who weighs more than five tonnes and is more than three metres high. Kaavan was also trained by an elephant expert for several weeks to make sure that he enters the crate safely.
“In the past weeks I have spent almost every day with Kaavan, talking and singing Frank Sinatra songs to him. 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 wɪʟʟ not leave Kaavan’s side during his entire journey,” Khalil was quoted as saying by Four Paws.
Cher was in Pakistan to see Kaavan off before his flight, and she even sang A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes to him in a bid to soothe his nerves. Thankfully, the flight was a success and Cher also made her way to Cambodia to meet Kaavan on the other side of his journey. “Kaavan was eating, was not stressed and he even slept a little bit whilst leaning on the wall of the crate!” Four Paws tweeted. “He behaves like a ‘Frequent Flyer.’”
Kaavan has left Pakistan for the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary. On his journey, he was accompanied by wildlife veterinarians and over 200 kg of food.
The “world’s loneliest elephant”, Kaavan, has reached Cambodia — on a flight all the way from Islamabad in Pakistan — and wɪʟʟ now spend his days at the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary in the country’s northwest.
Animal experts began the task of airlifting Kaavan on November 29, in a crate made especially for him. His departure from Pakistan marks the end of a campaign led by local activists and American singer and actress Cher, who has been campaigning for the elephant’s freedom since 2016. She is the co-founder of the NGO Free The Wild, that has played an important role in Kaavan’s relocation.
Cher tweeted to thank Pakistan’s prime minister for making the rescue possible, “Just Came From Meeting To Thank Prime Minister Imran Khan For Making It Possible For Me To Take Kaavan To Cambodia. Kaavan Wɪʟʟ Be Able To Leave For Cambodia On The 29.”
Former loneliest elephant in the world
Kaavan is now getting used to his new life at the sanctuary, and he already seems to be enjoying himself. In a YouTube video posted by Four Paws, he’s seen playfully exploring his spacious outdoor home. Four Paws says, “This is what a happy elephant looks like!” Kaavan has even started socializing with the other elephants, who are all female. In a photo shared by Four Paws, Kaavan locks trunks with his new neighbor—the first contact he’s had with an elephant in eight years! “We can now officially call him the ‘former loneliest elephant in the world,’” says Four Paws. “Seeing Kaavan interacting with other elephants is a huge moment for us but more importantly for Kaavan.”
The organization adds, “Kaavan wɪʟʟ finally have the chance to live a species-appropriate and peaceful life.”
Kaavan’s story wɪʟʟ be the subject of a 2021 documentary made by the Smithsonian Channel.
Kaavan is also Pakistan’s last Asian elephant and with his departure, the zoo where he was housed for over three decades wɪʟʟ close. The zoo has repeatedly made headlines for its poor conditions. In July this year, two lions ᴅ.ɪ.ᴇd as a result of sᴍᴏᴋᴇ ɪɴʜᴀʟᴀᴛɪᴏɴ after a ꜰɪʀᴇ in their enclosure. In recent years, over 500 animals have been reported missing from the zoo and over two dozen animals have ᴅ.ɪ.ᴇd over the last four years.