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Explained: How did Kaavan become the ‘world’s loneliest elephant’?

Kaavan has left Pakistan for the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary. On his journey, he was accompanied by wildlife veterinarians and over 200 kg of food.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: December 9, 2020 9:53:25 am
kaavan, world's lonliest elephant, kaavan cambodia, pakistan elephant, cher, express explained, indian expressKaavan with Dr. Amir Khalil in Islamabad. (Photo: AP)

The “world’s loneliest elephant”, Kaavan, has reached Cambodia — on a flight all the way from Islamabad in Pakistan — and will now spend his days at the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary in the country’s northwest.

Animal experts began the task of airlifting Kaavan on November 29, in a crate made especially for him. His departure from Pakistan marks the end of a campaign led by local activists and American singer and actress Cher, who has been campaigning for the elephant’s freedom since 2016. She is the co-founder of the NGO Free The Wild, that has played an important role in Kaavan’s relocation.

Cher tweeted to thank Pakistan’s prime minister for making the rescue possible, “Just Came From Meeting To Thank Prime Minister Imran Khan For Making It Possible For Me To Take Kaavan To Cambodia. Kaavan Will Be Able To Leave For Cambodia On The 29.”

Kaavan’s story will be the subject of a 2021 documentary made by the Smithsonian Channel.

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So, how did Kaavan become the world’s loneliest elephant?

Who is Kaavan, the elephant?

According to the animal welfare organisation Four Paws, the Asian elephant Kaavan lived in the Marghazar zoo in Islamabad for nearly 30 years, where his “only companion” Saheli died in 2012. Kaavan came to the country as a gift from Sri Lanka in 1985 when he was one year old and shared his enclosure with Saheli when she came to the zoo in 1990. After her death, Kaavan was reported to be listless and even started showing signs of mental illness.

kaavan, world's loneliest elephant, kaavan cambodia, pakistan elephant, cher, express explained, indian express, how kaavan went to cambodia, Kaavan, an Asian elephant, extends its trunk from behind white posts to reach out to another elephant at the Kulen Prom Tep Wildlife Sanctuary in Cambodia, on December 1. (Photo: AP)

After Saheli’s death, some people petitioned that Kaavan be freed, which was later amplified by Cher who has helped pay for Kaavan’s relocation.


Earlier in October, the Islamabad High Court appointed a veterinarian from Four Paws, Dr Amir Khalil, with the responsibility of undertaking the logistical organisation to move Kaavan, whose rescue has been described as the “heaviest” the organisation has undertaken.

Kaavan is also Pakistan’s last Asian elephant and with his departure, the zoo where he was housed for over three decades will close. The zoo has repeatedly made headlines for its poor conditions. In July this year, two lions died as a result of smoke inhalation after a fire in their enclosure. In recent years, over 500 animals have been reported missing from the zoo and over two dozen animals have died over the last four years.

Editorial | The ‘world’s loneliest elephant’ has moved from Pakistan to Cambodia. His journey has particular resonance in Covid times


What did it take to relocate Kaavan from Pakistan to Cambodia?

In order to take him to Cambodia, more than 4,000 km away, a special crate was built for the elephant, who weighs more than five tonnes and is more than three metres high. Kaavan was also trained by an elephant expert for several weeks to make sure that he enters the crate safely. On his journey till Cambodia, he was accompanied by wildlife veterinarians and over 200 kg of food, as per media reports.

“In the past weeks I have spent almost every day with Kaavan, talking and singing Frank Sinatra songs to him. This may seem absurd to outsiders, but it allowed me to build a close relationship with the elephant. Now he is ready to work with his trainer. As his personal physician, I will not leave Kaavan’s side during his entire journey,” Khalil was quoted as saying by Four Paws. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram

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First published on: 01-12-2020 at 07:18:37 pm
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