Finally, some good news in 2020. And we have Cher to thank for it. Yes, that Cher.
A 36-year-old bull elephant named Kaavan, whose worldwide fans have dubbed “the world’s loneliest elephant,” is finally heading to a new home after languishing at a dilapidated zoo in Pakistan for most of his life. After years of campaigning by the iconic singer Cher and animal rights activist groups to relocate Kaavan to better conditions, he successfully boarded a flight to a Cambodian sanctuary on Sunday, according to several outlets.
And I use the word “boarded” liberally here. It took hours for a team of experts to cajole Kaavan into a custom-built metal crate for the journey, and that was with the help of months of training, some light sedatives (for an elephant, at least), and sturdy chains. His crate was then loaded onto a truck and driven to Islamabad airport on Sunday, where a Russian cargo plane will take him to the 25,000-acre wildlife sanctuary, per the Guardian.
Kaavan, the only Asian elephant in Pakistan, arrived in the country when he was just a year old as a gift from Sri Lanka. He hasn’t always been lonely, though. The Marghazar Zoo, his lifelong home, bought him a partner from Bangladesh in 1990, a female elephant named Saheli. But since her death in 2012 (he reportedly laid beside her lifeless body for days in mourning), he’s been a party of one in his derelict enclosure, often kept in chains and without proper shelter from the elements. Research has shown that elephants are social creatures just like humans, and long periods of solitude can take a serious toll on both their mental and physical health (again, just like humans). Animal rights activists have repeatedly argued that his behavior, which included throwing his head from side to side for hours, exhibited stereotypical signs of distress for his species.
Zoo officials previously denied allegations that Kaavan wasn’t adequately cared for, but the facility’s conditions were reportedly so awful across the board that this year a judge ordered it to close and rehome all its animals, Kaavan among them. Awaiting him at the Cambodian sanctuary are three female Asian elephants, said Dr. Amir Khalil, a veterinarian with the global animal welfare group Four Paws International, in an interview with the Associated Press.
“Now Kaavan might have a new partner, and share a new life with a partner,” Khalil said.
Free the Wild, an international charity co-founded by Cher, worked in collaboration with Four Paws and others to orchestrate Kaavan’s move, which cost roughly $400,000 in total. Cher traveled to the country in the days leading up to his departure to meet with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and visit Kaavan’s exhibit to provide moral support.
“My wishes have finally come true,” Cher said per the Guardian. “We have been counting down to this moment and dreaming of it for so long and to finally see Kaavan transported out of [the Islamabad] zoo will remain with us forever.”
And while I know everyone’s first day can be nerve-wracking, I think Kaavan will make lots of new friends where he’s going. What wholesome news to come out of this trash fire of a year.