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Lonely to loved: Pakistan’s infamous elephant now ambles free in Cambodia

Tue 01 Dec 2020    
| 3 min read

Kaavan, dubbed the world’s loneliest elephant, finally escaped the meagre confines of a zoo in Islamabad on Monday, and has now taken his first steps to freedom at the wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia. And tagging alongside him at every stage of his journey to long-awaited salvation was pop music icon Cher, her months of effort finally yielding results as she landed in Pakistan over the weekend

The American singer and actress had campaigned for years to get Kaavan out of the Marghazar Zoo. Along with U.S. businessman Eric Margolis and the group Four Paws International, she helped pave the way 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. 

© FOUR PAWS | Hristo Vladev

In the mid-1980s — at just about a year old — Kaavan was gifted to Pakistan by Sri Lanka. He spent decades at the Islamabad zoo in a small enclosure with few of the amenities required to cater to the physical or mental health of the animal.

The Asian mammal performed for visitors, reportedly prodded by handlers to collect cash.

In 2012, Kaavan lost his only companion, an elephant called Saheli (‘female friend’ in Urdu), and his overall outlook took a devastating hit. The mammal grew agitated, angry and despondent, and given his unhealthy diet, obese.

Earlier this year, conditions at the zoo fell into such a state of disrepair that a Pakistani court ordered it to be shut down and all the animals to be relocated. The move sparked a global outcry to evacuate the animals, and especially Kaavan. 

When news of Kaavan’s misery 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. 

Teaming up with Free the Wild, a team of vets and experts from the U.K.-based international animal welfare group Four Paws has spent months on-site, working with Kaavan to prepare him for his big move. 

Kaavan’s journey is the biggest elephant transfer the charity has ever undertaken, and their first by plane, according to the organisation. Elephants have been moved by plane from one state to another in the U.S., for instance, but never an animal as large, or a move as logistically complicated, as this. 

Pulling it all off during a global pandemic has posed some unique challenges, but fortunately Kaavan’s pre-flight COVID-19 test came back negative, and arrangements for a 30-day quarantine in Cambodia were in place. 

The mammal’s next destination is the vast Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary in Cambodia. While he’ll be confined to just three acres for his quarantine period, even that will be a significant upgrade as his enclosure at the Islamabad zoo was just a half-acre, and largely devoid of natural materials.

Once he completes his quarantine, the plan is to introduce him to three female elephants, and set him free in 25,000 acres-wide land to roam to his heart’s content.

[Sourced from Agencies]