Cher helps Kaavan the lonely elephant find a new life, and maybe even love, after 35 bleak years

Pop music icon Cher was in Pakistan for the weekend to join a lone elephant on his long-awaited journey to salvation. Kaavan, dubbed the world’s loneliest elephant, finally escaped the narrow confines of a zoo in Islamabad and was on his way to a wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia on Monday.

The American singer and actress campaigned for years to get Kaavan out of the Marghazar Zoo. Together with American businessman Eric Margolis and the Four Paws International group, she helped pay for her relocation through her charity, Free the Wild. Local Pakistani activists first put Kaavan’s plight on Cher’s radar with a Twitter campaign, targeting #SaveKaavan and #FreeKaavan hashtag messages to celebrities around the world.

At nearly a year old, Kaavan was gifted to Pakistan by Sri Lanka in the mid-1980s. He spent decades at the Islamabad Zoo in a small enclosure with few of the comforts necessary for the physical or mental health of an animal. so high intelligence. He performed for the visitors, allegedly pushed by handlers to collect cash.

In 2012, Kaavan lost his only mate, a female elephant named Saheli, and her behavior rapidly deteriorated. He got angry, dejected and, given his unhealthy diet, became obese.

Conditions were so dire at the zoo that a Pakistani court ordered it to be closed in May this year and all 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 head of a global talent agency with a passion for wildlife whom she had met years earlier.

“She met Mark, who had previously moved 300 elephants, and he said, ‘Listen, we have to do something,’ so he started coming here and finding out what was going on, and they decided to form Free the Wild, hoping to that we can get big animals, at least starting with big animals, outside of zoos, “Cher’s assistant Jennifer Ruiz told CBS News in Islamabad.

The superstar had originally focused his efforts on trying to get an elephant out of the Los Angeles Zoo, Ruiz said, but so far they have been unsuccessful in California. “So this came up and, you know, she always tells me, ‘You do your best with what falls on your lap.’ If someone asks you, try your best.”

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

Four Paws communications chief Hannah Baker told CBS News that Kaavan’s trip is the largest elephant transfer the charity has ever conducted, and the first by plane. Elephants have been flown from one state to another in the US, for example, but never such a large animal or a movement as logistically complicated as this one.

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

Kaavan’s new home is the massive Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary in Cambodia. While it will be confined to just three acres during its quarantine period, even that will be a significant improvement as its enclosure at the Islamabad Zoo was only half an acre and largely lacking in natural materials.

Once your quarantine is complete, the plan is to introduce you to three female elephants and you’ll have 25,000 acres to roam.

Rehab with a new friend

Egyptian veterinarian Dr. Amir Khalil, Director of Project Development at Four Paws International, is known for rescuing animals from areas affected by war or disaster. He has become best friends with Kaavan, forming a close bond with him in recent months when the elephant regained health for its journey.

“When I first met Kaavan, he was severely overweight, had nail problems, and displayed what is known as stereotypical behavior: Captive animals need to move, but if chained, they resort to moving their heads from side to side to free themselves. . endorphins and all your pent-up energy. “

Khalil told CBS News that this sad behavior, in which Kaavan engaged in up to 15 hours a day, was mistaken by his previous handlers in Pakistan for dancing.

“My initial plan was just to examine Kaavan and work to get him fit to travel, but for some reason he seemed to like my voice,” said Khalil, who spent hours standing by a tree at the back of the Kaavan compound. trying to put the animal on to accept it. He was singing Frank Sinatra songs while he was there, and before long, he realized that Kaavan seemed to be a fan of his rendition of “I did it my way” and other classics.

The elephant began to trust the vet and Khalil often found Kaavan waiting for him.

“All relationships, whether they be between humans or between humans and animals, must be based on trust,” he said.

Kaavan’s diet plan was also crucial if he was going to get into his travel cage. He had been gobbling around 440 pounds a day of sugar cane, but Khalil hit him over the head quickly. On a more pachyderm-friendly diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, Kaavan dropped from 5.5 tons to a healthy 4.8. The chains that had often tied her legs for more than two decades were removed, forced performances abandoned, and her daily routine made more natural. The changes made him a much calmer and happier elephant before his trip.

For the past four weeks, Kaavan underwent routine training to get him used to his custom-made travel cage, which he fit comfortably in given his new lean physique.

Kaavan was held at the Islamabad Zoo for the past two weeks. There was a party and the supporters were able to come to see it for the last time, saying goodbye to the animal that for three decades had been the main attraction. A host of government officials stopped to say goodbye, including President Arif Alvi, who paid a visit over the weekend.

On Saturday, Cher was finally able to meet her elephant friend for the first time, taking the opportunity to serenade the music lover and offer him a bite to eat.

On Monday, the Russian cargo plane hired for the trip landed in Cambodia and began the next chapter in Kaavan’s life.

Khalil said he hoped the elephant story would serve as “a symbol for humanity and for doing the right thing for animals.”

This story was originally published by CBS News on November 30, 2020 at 6:56 am ET.

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