World's loneliest elephant Kaavan finally leaves zoo for sanctuary

Kaavan the world’s loneliest elephant finally leaves the tiny zoo cage where he spent THREE DECADES and begins journey to new wildlife sanctuary home

  • Kaavan arrived in Cambodia from Pakistan on Monday to begin his new life
  • The elephant had travelled almost 10 hours by plane in a carefully planned transport operation to move the 10-tone creature safely 
  • Pakistan’s only Asian elephant, Kaavan had lived in an Islamabad zoo accused of substandard care and conditions but will now call a wildlife sanctuary home
  • His plight gained greater attention after music superstar Cher became involved 

An elephant dubbed the ‘world’s loneliest’ landed in Cambodia on Monday, where it will head for a sanctuary housing three potential mates, an official said. 

The case of Kaavan – an overweight, 36-year-old bull elephant – sparked global uproar from animal rights groups, who petitioned for his move from an Islamabad zoo accused of substandard care and conditions.

His cause was boosted by a spirited social media campaign by American singer Cher, who travelled to Pakistan to see him off.

‘Cambodia is ready to welcome Kaavan,’ deputy environment minister Neth Pheaktra told AFP news agency on Monday.

Music icon Cher waited to greet Kaavan upon his arrival in Cambodia at Siem Reap International Airport

Cher (centre) was among the welcoming committee assembled to receive Kaavan in Cambodia

The elephant was expected to land in tourist hotspot Siem Reap around 2 pm (0700 GMT), before being transported to neighbouring province Oddar Meanchey where a wildlife sanctuary awaits him.

‘We expect to breed Kaavan with local elephants – this is an effort to conserve the genetic fold,’ the minister said, adding that the sanctuary also houses three female elephants.

Dubbed the world’s loneliest elephant by the press, Kaavan was the only Asian elephant in Pakistan.

But the conditions at the Islamabad zoo were so bad that a judge in May ordered that all the animals 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 trip – a complicated process due to his size and the amount of food needed en route.

Kaavan’s handlers are taking more than 200 kilograms of food including bananas and melons for him to munch on during the journey, according to Four Paws. 

The elephant also had to be taught to enter the massive metal crate that was placed in a cargo plane for the ten-hour flight. 

But ‘Kaavan quickly gained confidence in us and made great progress in a short time’, said Four Paws veterinarian Dr Amir Khalil in a statement Monday.

Four Paws veterinarian Dr Amir Khalil (pictured) said Kaavan required special training to get into his crate but ‘quickly gained confidence’ and ‘made progress in a short time’

Khalil hands the elephant some of the more than 200 kilograms of food wildlife workers had ready for the massive mammal’s journey

Dr Amir Khalil and his team have been working for months to prepare Kaavan for his journey to Cambodia [File photo]

The case of the overweight, 36-year-old bull elephant  sparked global uproar from animal rights groups, who petitioned for his move from an Islamabad zoo accused of substandard care and conditions [File photo]

On Sunday morning, Four Paws led dozens of wildlife workers and experts used a winch and rope to pull the sedated elephant into his custom-designed crate.

Weighing more than 10 tons, the crate was then lifted by crane out of the enclosure and onto a truck. 

Later a military convoy escorted Kaavan to Islamabad’s airport from where he left for Cambodia in the early hours of Monday morning on a former Russian cargo plane. 

Four Paws, along with Islamabad authorities, also safely moved three wolves and some monkeys from the zoo. 

Currently only two Himalayan brown bears, one deer and one monkey remain.

Superstar Cher was in Cambodia to be part of Kaavan’s welcome entourage. She has been filming a documentary with the Smithsonian Channel covering the rescue, which is being facilitated by her animal welfare organisation Free the Wild.

‘I found out about Kaavan from the people on my Twitter,’ said Cher, according to a statement from the Smithsonian Channel. 

‘I thought how can I fix this? How can I save an elephant who’s been shackled to a shed for 17 years and who is a thousand miles away? This is Free The Wild’s first big rescue and I am so proud.’

Cher meets with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in Friday while in Pakistan to oversee Kaavan’s departure as part of a documentary she is filming

A singer performs for Kaavan during a farewell ceremony at his Islamabad enclosure on Monday 23 November

A zoo worker feeds Kaavan during the farewell ceremony which came just under a week before he left Pakistan for Cambodia

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