Cher, who campaigned for Kaavan to be rehomed after 35 years of confinement in a zoo, greeted him at the Siem Reap airport and escorted him to his new digs in the Cambodia Wildlife sanctuary.
Kaavan, the elephant dubbed the "world's loneliest" has landed in Cambodia from Pakistan, receiving a warm welcome from American superstar Cher who will accompany him to a sanctuary housing potential mates.
Cher was on the tarmac at the airport of Cambodia’s second-biggest city Siem Reap on Monday to greet Kaavan and was photographed in sunglasses, black face mask and white jacket meeting the vets who accompanied the elephant, who made the long journey in a custom-made crate.
Animal rescue organisation Four Paws said Kaavan had another 90-minute drive ahead and would likely arrive at the sanctuary after nightfall, so he would be released in daylight on Tuesday.
“Kaavan was eating, was not stressed, he was even a little bit sleeping, standing leaning at the crate wall. He behaves like a Frequent Flyer,” said Dr Amir Khalil, a Four Paws vet behind several international animal rescues.
“The flight was uneventful, which is all you can ask for when you transfer an elephant.”
Kaavan has finally arrived in Cambodia!! and as promised @Cher is there at the airport waiting to welcome him and ready to escort him to his new life at the Cambodia Wildlife sanctuary 🐘❤ #FreeKaavan #FreeTheWiild pic.twitter.com/FXZuBQFP1Q— Team Cher Universe (@TCherUniverse) November 30, 2020
Years of campaigning
Pakistani activists pushed for years for Kaavan's re-location to a species-appropriate environment. After Kaavan lost his long-term partner Saheli, he went into depression and was chained and confined in Islamabad zoo for 17 years.
Pakistani animal rights groups say his behaviour in captivity demonstrated "a kind of mental illness" likely due to the zoo's woeful conditions.
In May, a Pakistani judge ordered that all the animals at the zoo be moved. Four Paws has been involved in finding many of them species-appropriate homes in other regions of the country,
Cher heard of his plight and got involved in efforts to save him from the zoo. She had written songs pressing for Kaavan’s release from grim, isolated conditions at Islamabad Zoo and she had spent the last few days with him in Pakistan.
"I am so proud he is here," she said, after greeting Kaavan through an opening at the base of the crate.
"He's going to be really happy here," said Cher, adding that she is hopeful his ordeal is now over
The multi award-winning singer has been with a film crew documenting Kaavan’s story and said she was proud to be part of an effort to free the elephant.
Dozens of wildlife workers and experts led by Four Paws used a winch and rope to pull the sedated elephant into the crate before he was loaded onto the Russian-built cargo plane.
Kaavan’s handlers took more than 200 kg (441 lbs) of food including bananas and melons to keep him busy on his journey.
Once the sole Asian elephant in Pakistan, Kaavan will be transported from Siem Reap to neighbouring province Oddar Meanchey where a wildlife sanctuary with about 600 other elephants will be his new home.
"Cambodia is pleased to welcome Kaavan. No longer will he be 'the world's loneliest elephant,'" deputy environment minister Neth Pheaktra said.
"We expect to breed Kaavan with local elephants -- this is an effort to conserve the genetic fold," the minister said.
Before he was transported to the sanctuary, monks offered him bananas and watermelon, chanting prayers and sprinkling holy water on his crate to bless him.