'World's Loneliest Elephant' Arrives at Wildlife Sanctuary in Cambodia, Thanks to Cher

Cher helped the "world's loneliest elephant" arrive at his new sanctuary in Cambodia.
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“Cher’s Elephant Airlift” captures the singer's journey as she embarks on the adventure of a lifetime to save the “world’s loneliest elephant,” is slated to premiere in 2021 on the Smithsonian Channel.

Cher and Kaavan, the “World’s Loneliest Elephant,” arrived safely at Kaavan’s new home at the Cambodian Wildlife Sanctuary.

The singer, who is co-founder of the organization Free the Wild, an international charity on a mission to improve the living conditions of wild animals in captivity and find a way to release them into sanctuaries or better-equipped zoos, spent years advocating for Kaavan’s release from a Pakastani Zoo.

The documentary, “Cher’s Elephant Airlift,”  captures the singer's journey as she embarks on the adventure of a lifetime to save the “world’s loneliest elephant.” It is slated to premiere in 2021 on the Smithsonian Channel.

Last week, Kaavan was transported to Cambodia via an Ilyushin IL-76 plane in a hand-painted crate custom built just for him.

Dr. Amir Khalil, a veterinarian with the global animal aid group Four Paws International, helped Kaavan prepare for his journey, and remarked that "transporting a 5.5. ton animal during a pandemic is an ambitious task.”

On Nov. 30, Cher, the team from Four Paws International, government officials and sanctuary owners, arrived at the sanctuary and helped Kaavan get settled in his forever home.

On the Free the Wild Facebook page, Kaavan is seen with a big smile on his face. In one clip he is joyously eating from a pile of food that consisted of chunks of pineapple, apples, potatoes, carrots, grapes, bananas and watermelon.

Cher, who has been by Kaavan’s side every step of the way, sang to him to ease some of his anxieties. His trainers have discovered the superstar's voice calms him before his journey.  

In another clip, Kaavan appears to be feeling the music and looks as if he is dancing with his ears flopping, his head bobbing and his trunk moving side to side. 

Kaavan’s story had been quite dismal. The male Asian elephant has been at the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, for 35 years, and for most of them, he was in chains. He was just a one-year-old elephant when he was gifted to Pakistan by the Sri Lankan government.

In 2012, when Kaavan lost his partner, who reportedly died of an infection that turned gangrenous, things got worse.  

Kaavan was heartbroken after his partner died, according to Dr. Khalil, the Associated Press reported.

He was also living in abysmal living conditions. Without proper care or socialization, he also suffered from many physical and psychological ailments.

Kaavan's nails were cracked and overgrown — the result of years of living in an improper enclosure with flooring that damaged his feet. He also developed behaviors including shaking his head back and forth for hours, which the medical team blamed on his utter boredom, the Associated Press reported.

Cher said she heard about Kaavan from the people on Twitter. “They would not stop saying ‘Cher, you have to do something,  you have to fix this, you have to save him.’ I thought, 'how can I fix this? How can I save an elephant who’s been shackled to a shed for 17 year and who is a thousand miles away?' This is Free The Wild’s first big rescue and I am so proud. We are thrilled to parent with the Smithsonian Channel who will be helping to bring our story to the world.”

Since 2016, Four Paws International has led the charge to save Kaavan. Activists named Kaavan the “World’s Loneliest Elephant" after his plight gained international attention when Cher launched her social media campaign to find a better living situation for him.

Cher’s four-year campaign, which included an original song highlighting Kaavan’s story - culminated in a May 21 decision by the Pakistani High Court to relocate him to an appropriate sanctuary.

Khalil said when he first met Kaavan in 2016 and returned to the zoo in August he was saddened by the animal's condition. Over the past three months, Khalil and the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board worked diligently to prepare him for his trip to Cambodia.

Khalil said he put Kaavan on a diet of fruit and vegetables and he had lost half a ton. Previously, he was eating 550 pounds of pure sugar cane every day, with an occasional fruit and vegetable.

Caring for Kaavan has been awe-inspiring for Khalil, who said he developed a strong emotional bond with the animal, a first in his 30-year history of working with rescues. And pointed out that whenever Kaavan would hear his voice, the elephant would come lumbering over.

“I was always moving, so never allowed myself to develop an emotional attachment,” he said. But with Kaavan he couldn't resist.

There are many elephants at his new home, said Khalil, in particular, three female elephants, and joked that Kaavan might find a girlfriend there.

Four Paws International spokesman Martin Bauer lauded the powerful impact of Cher's advocacy.

The star traveled to Pakistan last month to visit the elephant for the first time since the journey began. Her travel plans were not made public due to security concerns. While in Pakistan, she met with Prime Minister Imran Khan at his home.

In a tweet following her meeting, Cher said she thanked Khan “for making it possible for me to take Kaavan to Cambodia.” She tweeted she was making a film about Kaavan, saying she thinks “the documentary will be heartwarming.”

Bauer added: “Celebrities lending their voices to good causes are always welcomed, as they help start public discourse and raising pressure on responsible authorities.”


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