The world’s loneliest elephant finds his new home

Kaavan’s saga has been going on since 1985 when the then 1-year-old Sri Lankan elephant was gifted to Pakistan’s leader.

Pakistan has no native elephants, so he ended up living in the Murghazar Zoo in Islamabad, mostly alone, until late 2020.

At the zoo, sweltering temperatures tortured the animal, and the lack of foliage in his tiny, lonely pen upset animal advocates around the world for decades. After all, elephants are social animals.

Kaavan’s “life”

Asian elephants roam hundreds of miles through shady, tropical forests, while Kavaan’s pen was just 100 x 150 yards.

In 2002, visitors to the zoo were disturbed when they saw the elephant being chained up for much of the day, even in his tiny accommodations.

The zoo’s excuse? He was becoming a harm to himself and exhibiting violence and the chains were to keep him and zoo workers safe.

But the story spread far and wide and people got increasingly upset, forcing the zoo to free him from the shackles after they received a petition with over 200,000 signatures protesting his treatment.

In 1990, the zoo tried to buy him a partner, Sahelo. But the animal died in 2012 and all Kaavan could do was grieve alone.

By 2015, Kaavan was being kept in chains again, but this time the attention his plight garnered made it impossible for the zoo to keep him in such conditions anymore.

One of Kavaan’s most vocal advocates? The popstar, Cher. She’s been raising awareness and trying to free him since 2016.

Friends in high places

It helps to have famous friends.

The now-36-year-old elephant got good news in May of 2020 when the Islamabad High Court issued an order mandating his freedom and telling wildlife workers to consult with officials in Sri Lanka to find a suitable sanctuary within 30 days.

Finally Kaavan & all other animals ordered to be shifted to sanctuary. Islamabad High Court asked IWMB to make arrangements & consult with Sri Lanka’s HC to relocate Kaavan to a suitable sanctuary within 30 days. Also to relocate all remaining animals to sanctuaries within 60days

— 🍃 Friends of Islamabad Zoo (FIZ) 🍃 🐻 🐘 🐺 🙊 (@IsbZooFriends) May 21, 2020

They deemed the zoo unfit to care for him and, according to The Guardian, Kaavan’s zookeepers had even been suspended for stealing his food. Earlier in 2020, wild boars broke into the elephant’s enclosure to steal his bread and fruit as well. His only water was from a dirty pond as well, and Kaavan was found to be severely dehydrated.

Gulf News reported that an eight-member committee was convened to find the best way to relocate Kaavan.

Mark Cowne, the CEO of Free The Wild, a charity he runs with Cher told Al Jazeera:

“It’s so exciting. It’s remarkable … I’m so happy for Kavaan. We were concerned about his mental health, he was in a very bad condition. We really wanted to help him. He had been through a terrible time, locked up for 26 years, chained up for all that time.”

Cher called the day she heard of the court’s decree “one of the greatest moments of my life.”

The road to freedom

In November of 2020, Kaavan was finally transported to his new home in Cambodia. After a 7-hour plane ride, a COVID test, and 440 pounds of snacks, he arrived to the chanting of Buddhist monks.

“He behaves like a frequent flier. The flight was uneventful, which is all you can ask for when you transfer an elephant,” the vet accompanying him on his journey said.

It all happened more than 30 days after the decree, but planning for the trip was far more complex than anyone had realized, especially the plane ride, for which the elephant had to be trained to even enter a crate.

His trip required a bit of weight loss as well since his diet consisted of too much sugar. He lost 1000 pounds over the last 3 months and is now back to a healthy weight (apparently, sugar isn’t good for anyone).

Cher’s animal welfare group Free the Wild teamed up with the advocacy organization Four Paws and American philanthropist Eric Margolis, to pay for and execute the journey to the tune of roughly $400,000.

But the good news is that on December 1st, Kaavan was expected to be released from his crate and set free in his new home to live out his life in peace and dignity.

Be sure to scroll down below to see Kaavan’s heart-wrenching story, followed by a recent update on his freedom.

Please SHARE this with your friends and family.

Victoria Do

Victoria Do is a contributor at Jackie Inc.

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