US popstar Cher in Pakistan for relocation of 'world's loneliest elephant'

By: News Desk      Published: 11:51 AM, 28 Nov, 2020
US popstar Cher in Pakistan for relocation of 'world's loneliest elephant'

American popstar Cher is in Pakistan ahead of the relocation of an elephant from Islamabad's dilapidated zoo to a Cambodian sanctuary.

Cher met Prime Minister Imran Khan before the relocation of Kaavan the elephant.

The singer, who has for years campaigned for Kaavan the elephant and is helping pay for his move, arrived in Islamabad this week to see the animal before the flight to Cambodia on Sunday.

“Appreciating her efforts in retiring Kaavan to an elephant sanctuary, the prime minister thanked Cher for her campaign and role in this regard,” a statement from PM Khan’s office read.

Cher tweeted that she thanked Khan “for making it possible for me to take Kaavan to Cambodia”.

The plight of Kaavan – an overweight, 35-year-old bull elephant – has drawn international condemnation and highlighted the woeful state of Islamabad’s zoo, where conditions are so bad that a judge in May ordered all the animals to be moved.

A team of vets and experts from Four Paws, an Austria-based animal welfare group, has spent months working with Kaavan to get him ready for the journey to Cambodia.

Experts have trained Kaavan to enter a large metal crate that will be used to transport the animal to the airport.

Volunteers working with Kaavan say he responds well to music and singing, and Cher is expected to belt out a song or two for the elephant before he departs Islamabad.

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 Friday with Prime Minister Imran Khan and was expected to visit Kaavan later in the trip.

Kaavan, the elephant has languished in the zoo for 35 years, and lost his partner in 2012. He was diagnosed by veterinarians as both overweight and malnourished, and also suffers behavioural issues due to his isolation.

Kaavan is set to leave for a sanctuary in Cambodia on Sunday, said Martin Bauer of Four Paws International, a global animal welfare group that’s led the charge to save him since 2016.

Cher took up Kaavan’s cause and has been a loud voice advocating for his resettlement. Four Paws, which often carries out animal rescue missions, has provided the medical treatment needed before Kaavan can travel and will accompany him to the sanctuary.

Even after he’s in Cambodia, he’ll require years of physical and even psychological assistance, Bauer said.

Because of the abysmal living conditions blamed on systemic negligence, 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 Amil Khalil and the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board has been readying Kaavan to leave.

Khalil first met Kaavan in 2016, and returned to the zoo in August, where he was heartbroken at the animal's condition. 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 of pure sugarcane every day, with an occasional fruit and vegetable.

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

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

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

Khalil joked that Kaavan might just find a girlfriend there — who knows?

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.