A global effort helped bring the “loneliest elephant in the world” with 600 other pachyderms to a new home.
An eight-year battle for the freedom of a majestic five-ton Asian elephant finally ended when a transport plane flew from Pakistan to Cambodia to drop it off on Monday.
American singer Cher – a longtime advocate of Kaavan’s freedom – was on the tarmac at the airport of the Cambodian city of Siem Reap to greet the elephant and meet the vets who packed him in a custom-made box weighing more than 200 kg on his long journey accompanied (440 pounds) food to keep him busy.
Vienna-based animal rescue organization Four Paws said the 36-year-old Kaavan, who had spent most of his life unaccompanied in an Islamabad zoo, would be released from his crate on Tuesday in daylight in a sanctuary with 600 pachyderm colleagues.
Elephant Kaavan will eventually be relocated to Cambodia from Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad [Courtesy: Four Paws]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 was getting into hard times and conditions turned so bad that a court in the Pakistani capital ordered it to be closed in August.
The plight of the male Asian elephant has attracted worldwide attention.
“Kaavan has become a symbol of hope and freedom for the hundreds of captured elephants around the world,” said Owais Awan, an attorney who was part of the relocation project.
Marion Lombard, Assistant Head of Mission and Project Development Officer for Four Paws, was part of the team that accompanied Kaavan on his trip from Islamabad to Siem Reap.
Lombard spent nearly three months with Amir Khalil, head of the Four Paws mission in Islamabad, to prepare for the trip.
She told Al Jazeera that she had mixed feelings with excitement and happiness for the elephant’s freedom from a small enclosure, but at the same time said that she was a little sad too.
“I was very moved by people who fought very hard for Kaavan. I am thrilled to see Kaavan begin another chapter in his life, ”said Lombard.
A crane lifts a box of Kaavan at Islamabad International Airport [Saiyna Bashir/Reuters]
Kaavan was greeted with fanfare and media as the hand-painted crate went down the ramp.
Monks greeted Kaavan on his arrival in Cambodia with welcoming rituals and offerings.
There was an international team that made the trip possible, consisting of Four Paws, Free the Wild – led by Cher – and Eric Margolis, an American businessman who made the trip possible.
Cher arrived in Islamabad last week and met Prime Minister Imran Khan to thank him for his government’s efforts in releasing Kaavan.
Just came back from the meeting to thank Prime Minister Imran Kahn for making it possible
I’m taking Kaavan to Cambodia. Kaavan will be able to travel to Cambodia on the 29th. Think documentary is going to be heartwarming.
– Dear (@cher) November 27, 2020
Kaavan will first go through a quarantine period and slowly gain access to enclosures to get used to the new environment.
In time, he will be introduced to three Asian female elephants at the sanctuary, which will be a supervised effort to avoid any aggression from either side.
Kaavan looks perfect in the sanctuary’s quarantine area @ftwglobal @GinaKrugco @sagancowne @cowne_mark @cher pic.twitter.com/SAHTX1bgOB
– Anika @ 🇵🇰 (@anikasleem) November 30, 2020
Lombard explained how Khalil built a special bond with Kaavan and both will stay in Siem Reap for the transition period.
“We handed him over and wherever he goes, the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary has great experience and very well trained staff in handling elephants – especially abused, traumatized and rescuing elephants.”
Khalil told Al Jazeera of Siem Reap he was not concerned about Kaavan’s health or transition. The most important thing is how he comes into contact with other elephants, he said.
“I have never connected to an animal like Kaavan and he finally made a friend in me, but with other elephants he can have more friends who speak the same language … and someone who can hear you,” said Khalil.
“Mainly because he was so lonely for so many years. Elephants have great memories, he has seen so much, and he will have great stories to tell his new friends. “