'World's loneliest elephant' arrives in Cambodia with help from Cher

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Kaavan, dubbed the “world’s loneliest elephant” after years alone in a Pakistani zoo, was greeted by singing Buddhist monks on arrival in Cambodia on Monday and then sent off to a nature reserve.

Like other travelers during this time, the elephant had to be tested for Covid-19 before its flight. Once his large metal box was safely on board, Kaavan was given in-flight snacks – 440 pounds of it – for the seven-hour journey.

Kaavan wasn’t stressed during the flight, ate his food and even got some sleep in his crate, said Amir Khalil, a veterinarian who accompanied him on the flight and works with Four Paws, the Vienna-based animal rescue group who organized the move.

“He’s acting like a frequent flyer. The flight was uneventful, which is all you can ask if you are transferring an elephant, ”said Khalil.

The 36-year-old, 9,000-pound elephant was welcomed to Cambodia by officials, conservationists and Buddhist monks, who sang prayers for his harmony and prosperity.

Kaavan, a present from Sri Lanka to Pakistan in 1985, lived with his partner Saheli, who died in 2012, at Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad. The zoo got into difficult times and the conditions became so bad that a court in the Pakistani capital closed the ordered zoo in August.

The plight of the male Asian elephant has attracted worldwide attention, including from Americans Singer and actor Cherwho was closely involved in his rescue and was in Cambodia because of Kaavan’s arrival.

Cher’s animal rights group Free the Wild worked with Four Paws and American syndicated columnist and philanthropist Eric Margolis to relocate Kaavan – a mission that costs about $ 400,000.

Very few adult elephants have ever been relocated by air, according to Four Paws, so the preparations were arduous.

Amir Khalil, Head of Project Development at Four Paws, with Kaavan in September at Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad, Pakistan.Saiyna Bashir / Reuters

Veterinarians and elephant experts who worked for Four Paws spent three months in Islamabad training Kaavan three times a day on how to safely and stress-free get on and off his four-ton travel crate, which contains a system that can hold up to 53 gallons of urine can.

He was also dangerously overweight due to his improper diet of roughly 550 pounds of sugar cane a day. With Khalil’s help, Kaavan has lost 1,000 pounds in the past three months.

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Kaavan’s wounds are both emotional and physical. He’d spend his days tossing his head back and forth, a stereotypical sign of boredom and misery in an elephant, said Martin Bauer, a Four Paws spokesman.

The loss of his mate Saheli took a toll on Kaavan’s sanity. Elephants are social animals that live on other elephants, Bauer explained.

Late on Monday, Kaaven was driven by truck to a warehouse in northern Cambodia, where he was supposed to leave his box on Tuesday.

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