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Kaavan has been living in misery for three decades at an Islamabad zoo. Photo: AP

Kaavan the ‘world’s loneliest elephant’ bound for happier new home in Cambodia

  • For 35 years, Kaavan languished in a state of neglect at Pakistan’s Marghazar Zoo, where he was malnourished and often in mental distress
  • At the Cambodian sanctuary, Kaavan will no longer be friendless and uncared for – and he could even find love, activists say
The “world’s loneliest elephant” is set to leave Pakistan for better conditions on Sunday, after years of lobbying by animal rights groups and activists.
Kaavan’s new home will be a sanctuary in Cambodia, said Martin Bauer, spokesman for global animal welfare group Four Paws International, which has led the charge to save the animal since 2016.

Four Paws, which often carries out animal rescue missions, will accompany Kaavan to the sanctuary.

Kaavan has languished in the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad for 35 years and lost his partner in 2012, when she had an infection that turned gangrenous.

Her body lay beside Kaavan for several days before being removed, said Dr Amir Khalil, veterinarian with Four Paws. Kaavan was heartbroken after his partner died, he added.

Khalil has treated the elephant’s many wounds and ailments over the past three months.

Kaavan has been diagnosed by veterinarians as both overweight and malnourished, and also suffers behavioural issues due to his isolation.


‘World’s loneliest elephant’ gets farewell party before leaving Pakistan for Cambodia

‘World’s loneliest elephant’ gets farewell party before leaving Pakistan for Cambodia
American singer and actress Cher, who had been a loud voice advocating for his resettlement, flew to Pakistan to celebrate the elephant’s departure.

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.

Khan’s office released a video of the singer sitting with the prime minister outside on the expansive grounds of Khan’s residence.

On Twitter, Cher said she thanked Khan “for making it possible for me to take Kaavan to Cambodia”.

Even after he is in Cambodia, Kaavan will require years of physical and even psychological assistance, said Bauer from Four Paws.

Because of the abysmal living conditions blamed on systemic negligence, Pakistan’s high court in May ordered the closure of Marghazar Zoo in the capital of Islamabad, where Kaavan had lived for much of his life.

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 behaviours including 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 Khalil and the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board, have been readying Kaavan to leave.

Khalil first met Kaavan in 2016 and returned to the zoo in August, where he was saddened by the animal’s condition. 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 has lost half a ton (450kg), he said. Previously, Kaavan was eating 250kg of pure sugar cane every day, with an occasional fruit and vegetable.

Dr Amir Khalil has developed a soft spot for Kaavan. Photo: Reuters

The veterinarian said this was the first time in 30 years that he developed a strong emotional bond with a rescue animal. Now, the “world’s loneliest elephant” comes lumbering over when he hears Khalil’s voice.

Because he was always on the move, the doctor said he had “never allowed myself to develop an emotional attachment” with his subjects, but with Kaavan, it was different.

Khalil had pampered and protected Kaavan for the past three months, cajoling him into losing weight as well as being less fidgety and more relaxed so he could make the trip to Cambodia, he said.

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As his work could get quite mundane, Khalil would sometimes serenade Kaavan.

“I noticed that the elephant started to get an interest in my voice, which no one loved anyway, so I was embarrassed,” he told the BBC. “But then I was happy to have found a big fan, and I started to sing to him.”

There were many elephants at the Cambodian sanctuary, Khalil said, but in particular, three female elephants were awaiting Kaavan’s arrival. The doctor joked that Kaavan might just find a new love there.

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.