Iconic singer and actress Cher has arrived in Pakistan to visit the ‘world’s loneliest elephant’ after her campaigning helped free him from a zoo for a new home.
On Tuesday, a celebration was held for Kaavan – an overweight, 35-year-old bull elephant – whose plight has drawn international condemnation and highlighted the woeful state of Marghazar Zoo.
Cher will join in with further celebrations of his release from the zoo to a sanctuary in Cambodia, but because of security concerns, her schedule was not made public.
However, she met prime minister Imran Khan on Friday and was expected to visit Kaavan later in the trip, according to the prime minister’s office.
Pictured: Iconic singer and actress Cher meets with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad on Friday ahead of the release of Kaavan – the world’s loneliest elephants – for whom Cher and other animal rights activists have campaigned to be released from a horror zoo
The elephant has languished in a zoo for 35 years, and lost his partner in 2012. He was diagnosed by veterinarians as both overweight and malnourished earlier this year, and also suffers behavioural issues. He will still require years of recovery after his relocation
Mr Khan’s office released a video of the singer sitting with the prime minister outside on the expansive grounds of his residence.
The elephant – Pakistan’s only Asian elephant – has languished in a zoo for 35 years, and lost his partner in 2012.
He was diagnosed by veterinarians as both overweight and malnourished earlier this year, and also suffers behavioural issues.
He is set to leave for a sanctuary in Cambodia on Sunday after years of lobbying by animal rights groups and activists.
Cher took up Kaavan’s cause and has been a loud voice advocating for his resettlement.
Four Paws International, a global animal welfare group which often carries out animal rescue missions, has provided the medical treatment needed before Kaavan can travel.
The battle for his relocation began in 2016.
Kaavan, is leaving a tiny enclosure in a Pakistan horror zoo for a new life at a Cambodian sanctuary after years of campaigning by animal rights activists. Pictured: Pakistani band Khumaariyan performs at Kaavans leaving party
Friends threw a farewell party for Kaavan, Pakistan’s only Asian elephant, before he heads to a wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia on Sunday
Martin Bauer of Four Paws told The Associated Press on Friday: ‘Thanks to Cher, but also local Pakistani activists, Kaavan’s fate made headlines around the world, and this contributed to the facilitation of his transfer.’
Even after he is in Cambodia, he will require years of physical and even psychological assistance, Mr Bauer said.
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.
On Tuesday, with music, treats and balloons, friends of Kaavan threw a farewell party for the creature ahead of his relocation.
The zoo was decorated with balloons for the occasion and banners wishing the animal well. ‘We will miss you Kaavan,’ read one of the signs.
Cher has been a vocal advocate of Kaava’s resettlement – along with animal right’s activists in Pakistan. 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
Volunteers paint an image of an elephant on a crate which will be used to transport Kaavan to a sanctuary in Cambodia on Sunday
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.
Dr Khalil first met Kaavan in 2016 and returned to the zoo in August where he was heartbroken at the animal’s condition.
Dr 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.
Kaavan’s vet said this was the first time in 30 years that he had developed a strong emotional bond with a rescue animal
Amir Khalil, head of project development at FOUR PAWS International, (right) and Frank Goeritz, head of the veterinary service at Leibniz Institute for zoo and wildlife research in Berlin, take measurements of Kaavan ahead of his relocation to Cambodia
Kaavan is pictured being given a farewell ceremony on Tuesday surrounded by animal-lovers before his relocation to Cambodia on Sunday
Previously, Kaavan was eating 250 kilograms (550 pounds) of pure sugar cane every day, with an occasional fruit and vegetable.
The vet said this was the first time in 30 years that he had developed a strong emotional bond with a rescue animal. Now, the ‘world’s loneliest elephant’ comes lumbering over when he hears Dr Khalil’s voice.
Dr Khalil said: ‘I was always moving, so never allowed myself to develop an emotional attachment.’ But with Kaavan he couldn’t resist.
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.
Dr Khalil said there are many elephants at the sanctuary but in particular three female elephants are awaiting Kaavan’s arrival, joking that Kaavan might just find a girlfriend there.
Mr 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.