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Kaavan the elephant at the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad in June 2016. Photo: AFP

Cher overjoyed as Pakistan agrees to free lonely elephant Kaavan

  • Outrage over pachyderm’s treatment in Islamabad zoo sparked high-profile rights campaign backed by US singer
  • Court orders wildlife officials to find ‘suitable sanctuary’ for animal within 30 days

Music icon Cher marked “ONE OF THE GREATEST MOMENTS OF MY LIFE” on Thursday after a Pakistani court ordered freedom for a lonely elephant named Kaavan, who had become the subject of a high-profile rights campaign backed by the US singer.

“WE HAVE JUST HEARD FROM PAKISTAN HIGH COURT KAAVAN IS FREE,” Cher tweeted, adding a string of emojis and saying she felt “SICK”.

“THIS IS ONE OF THE GREATEST MOMENTS OF MY LIFE,” the effusive singer continued.

The Islamabad High Court has ordered wildlife officials to consult Sri Lanka to find Kaavan a “suitable sanctuary” within 30 days, tweeted the Friends of Islamabad Zoo, which described itself as a group of citizens concerned about animal welfare at the zoo.

Outrage over treatment of Kaavan, an Asian elephant originally from Sri Lanka, went global several years ago with a petition garnering over 200,000 signatures after it emerged the animal was being chained at the Islamabad Zoo in Pakistan’s leafy capital.

Zoo officials later said this was no longer the case, and that it just needed a new mate after its previous partner died in 2012.

But experts have told AFP previously that without a better habitat its future was bleak, even if a long-promised new mate finally arrives.

Kaavan’s behaviour – including signs of distress such as bobbing its head repeatedly – shows “a kind of mental illness”, Safwan Shahab Ahmad of the Pakistan Wildlife Foundation said in 2016.

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Activists said the animal had insufficient shelter from Islamabad’s searing summer temperatures, which can rise to above 40 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit).

Asian elephants can roam thousands of kilometres through deep tropical and subtropical forests, according to the WWF. In contrast, Kaavan’s 90 by 140 metre (100 by 150 yard) pen had almost no foliage, and only limited shade was provided.

Arriving as a one-year-old in 1985 from Sri Lanka, Kaavan was temporarily held in chains in 2002 because zookeepers were concerned about increasingly violent tendencies, but it was freed later that year after an outcry.

Pop singer Cher arrives for the Women's March on Washington in January 2018. Photo: AP

Its mate Saheli, who arrived also from Sri Lanka in 1990, died in 2012, and in 2015 it emerged that Kaavan was regularly being chained once more – for several hours a day.

Scores of people signed a petition sent to zoo authorities and Pakistan’s then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in protest.

A second petition circulated in 2016 and backed by over 200,000 animal-lovers from across the globe demanded Kaavan’s release to a sanctuary.

Cher, who for years has spoken out about Kaavan’s plight, tweeted her thanks to the Pakistani government, adding “it’s so emotional for us that I have to sit Down”.