Cher visits Pakistan to help ‘world’s loneliest elephant’

27 November 2020, 17:34

Elephant Kaavan
Pakistan Loneliest Elephant. Picture: PA

Kaavan is set to leave for a sanctuary in Cambodia this weekend.

Iconic singer and actress Cher is in Pakistan to celebrate the departure of Kaavan, dubbed the “world’s loneliest elephant”.

Because of security concerns, Cher’s schedule was not made public. However, she met prime minister Imran Khan on Friday and was expected to visit Kaavan later in the trip, according to the prime minister’s office.

Mr Khan’s office released a video of the singer sitting with the prime minister outside on the expansive grounds of his residence.

Pakistan Loneliest Elephant
Cher has been a vocal advocate of Kaavan’s resettlement (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

The elephant has languished in a zoo for 35 years, and lost his partner in 2012.

She died after an infection turned gangrenous and her body lay beside Kaavan for several days before being removed, said Dr Amir Khalil, vet with Four Paws.

Dr Khalil said Kaavan was heartbroken after his partner died.

He was diagnosed by veterinarians as both overweight and malnourished earlier this year, and also suffers behavioural issues.

He is set to leave for a sanctuary in Cambodia on Sunday after years of lobbying by animal rights groups and activists.

Cher took up Kaavan’s cause and has been a loud voice advocating for his resettlement.

In a tweet following her meeting with Pakistan’s prime minister, Cher thanked him “for making it possible for me to take Kaavan to Cambodia”.

She tweeted she was making a documentary on Kaavan and said: “Think documentary will be heartwarming.”

Four Paws International, a global animal welfare group which often carries out animal rescue missions, has provided the medical treatment needed before Kaavan can travel.

The battle for his relocation began in 2016.

Martin Bauer of Four Paws told The Associated Press on Friday: “Thanks to Cher, but also local Pakistani activists, Kaavan’s fate made headlines around the world, and this contributed to the facilitation of his transfer.”

Even after he is in Cambodia, he will require years of physical and even psychological assistance, Mr Bauer said.

Pakistan’s high court in May ordered the closure of Marghazar Zoo in the capital of Islamabad, where Kaavan has lived for much of his life.

A medical examination in September showed Kaavan’s nails were cracked and overgrown — the result of years of living in an improper enclosure with flooring that damaged his feet.

The elephant has also developed stereotypical behaviour, shaking his head back and forth for hours, which the medical team of wildlife veterinarians and experts blamed on his utter boredom.

For the past three months, a Four Paws team including veterinarian Dr Khalil and the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board has been readying Kaavan to leave.

Pakistan Loneliest Elephant
Volunteers paint an image of an elephant on a crate which will be used to transport Kaavan to a sanctuary in Cambodia (Anjum Naveed/AP)

Dr Khalil first met Kaavan in 2016 and returned to the zoo in August where he was heartbroken at the animal’s condition.

Dr Khalil has spent the last three months trying to get him ready for his trip to Cambodia.

Kaavan was put on a diet of fruit and vegetables and as a result has lost half a ton (450 kilograms), he said.

Previously, Kaavan was eating 250 kilograms (550 pounds) of pure sugar cane every day, with an occasional fruit and vegetable.

The vet said this was the first time in 30 years that he had developed a strong emotional bond with a rescue animal. Now, the “world’s loneliest elephant” comes lumbering over when he hears Dr Khalil’s voice.

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

He said he has pampered and protected him for the past three months, cajoling him into losing weight as well as being less fidgety and more relaxed so he can make the trip to Cambodia.

Dr Khalil said there are many elephants at the sanctuary but in particular three female elephants are awaiting Kaavan’s arrival.

Dr Khalil joked that Kaavan might just find a girlfriend there.

Mr Bauer lauded the powerful impact celebrity voices can have for animal rights.

“Celebrities lending their voices to good causes are always welcomed, as they help starting public discourse and raising pressure on responsible authorities,” he said.

“Around the globe there are animal lovers, famous and not famous, and the support of every single one of them is crucial,” he added.

By Press Association