Kaavan, the World's Loneliest Elephant meets a famous pop star who helps secure his freedom. This is an amazing and heartwarming story about hope and empathy. Elephants are magnificent creatures who have long been ignored and mistreated in zoos and circus shows and also poached for their ivory and skin. We hope that as a community, we can continue to raise awareness about the rights and freedoms of our elephants and other wild animals and never give up until the last elephant has been set free.
Kavaan, the story of the world's loneliest elephant, was a heart-wrenching journey fighting for freedom for one emotionally distraught Asian elephant living in a cruel environment in a Pakistani zoo. People around the world, including several animal rights groups such as Four Paws International, launched campaigns to save him. But it wasn’t until his story caught the eye of the American pop star Cher, that Kavaan’s fate truly changed.
This particular elephant was special, and the world knew it. His story is one that still continues to influence us and animal rights groups to this day to fight for the freedom of every animal, no matter how big or small. This is Kavaan’s story and how he touched the heart of one of the most famous pop stars in the world.
Who is Kavaan?
To start, Kaavan is an Asian elephant that was born in 1985 in Sri Lanka and was brought to Pakistan as a young calf to live and perform in the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad. At the zoo, Kaavan's job was to raise his trunk to entertain the crowd while his handler jabbed him with a giant bullhook. People would hand Kavaan money when he raised his trunk, and Kavaan would bring it down to his prodder.
Outside of the same daily routine at the zoo, Kaavan would spend his nights in his half-acre enclosure. His enclosure was beyond small for an elephant and had no trees, bushes, rocks, or anything of substance for young Kaavan to eat or play with. His entire life seemed to be laid out for him day by day.
How did Kavaan become the world’s loneliest elephant?
After spending a few years in the Islamabad Zoo, Kavaan met a female elephant by the name of Saheli a few years later that arrived from Bangladesh in the early 1990s. After meeting, the two quickly bonded, and she became his mate in a matter of time. However, their years together were numbered, and Saheli passed away, supposedly from a gangrenous infection in 2012 from the constant prodding from the bullhook of the handler.
After Saheli passed away, the need for companionship deeply affected Kavaan, and his mood and behavior rapidly begun to change. Kavaan began to exhibit the behavior of excessive stress, anxiety, and depression. He had also been acting more aggressively and spent a lot of time in chains because of it. After she died, he only got worse. There is a popular photo circulating around the internet of Kavaan standing in a small corner in his enclosure with his face hidden against the wall. This is all he would do after losing his partner. And soon, Kavaan became known as the world’s loneliest elephant.
This is such a depressing picture and breaks my heart.— Awan (@hwn60) March 15, 2020
Research shows that “When an animal is sitting or standing like that with head placed againt a wall, the animal is seriously distressed and something must be done immediately our this will kill them” #Kavaan @WWF @wwf_uk pic.twitter.com/ESN2St59qP
In addition to his other distressed behavior, he also had low locomotive activity (known as the constant bobbing of the head) and, for a time, became completely indifferent to humans. His physical condition was also deteriorating, and the poor elephant was also severely overweight due to the high sugar diet his keepers gave him. Kaavan was sick, and if he didn’t get help soon, he wasn’t going to make it much longer.
How Cher Helped Save Kaavan
Once the world about Kaavan’s story of being the loneliest elephant in the world soon spread, it broke the hearts of many around the world. Surprisingly, Kavaan’s story even caught the attention of well-known American popstar Cher in 2016 from her millions of followers on Twitter notifying her.
— Cher Brasil - Fã site (@SiteCherBrasil) December 1, 2020
Despite her fame and large following, Cher is an animal lover and activist, that co-founded a wildlife protection charity known as “Free the Wild.” And once she found about Kavaan, the neglected and abused Asian elephant, she reached out to her friends and hired a team to help her fight for the elephant's freedom, but it didn’t stop there. On social media, Cher also pushed a campaign using the hashtags #freeKaavan and #saveKavaan to spread awareness and petition for the elephant’s freedom.
And finally, in May 2020, a judge ruled that Kavaan should to a place with better conditions. After this, a team from Four Paws International, an animal welfare and protection organization, finally was able to begin the extraction process of the 36-year-old elephant and take him to his new home at the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary. This rehabilitation process included helping him to get on a diet to lose the excess weight he had gained, as well as train him to feel comfortable in his crate for the 10-hour flight to Cambodia.
Cher herself came to see Kavaan as well in November 2020 and serenaded him with music. “I felt the connection,” the singer said. “We hung out and sang a bad rendition of ‘My Way,’ which is not a song I would ever sing in my life. Elephants adore music; I don’t think people have any idea how the emotions of human beings and elephants are the same,” she said (nypost.com). There is also now a documentary on the story of the world’s loneliest elephant and how Cher helped change his life, now streaming on Paramount +.
Kaavan, the worlds loneliest elephant is about to get a new lease on life after spending 35 years of his life living in inhumane conditions. He will be relocated to an elephant sanctuary in Cambodia. https://t.co/Od9YD1osT8 pic.twitter.com/C4p6p6kIOY— Getaway Magazine (@GetawayMagazine) September 6, 2020
Where is Kavaan now?
Today, Kavaan is living in a wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia with three female elephants and one-million-acre to roam around where volunteers and staff work to protect the natural habitat and house a wide range of endangered species.
Overall, for many years, Kaavan may still have problems overcoming his psychological issues of the past and adjusting to his new life, but he has also finally been given the chance to be free, to be loved, to be happy, and most of all, to be an elephant. And in the end, that’s all we could ever truly ask for. Kavaan was lucky to finally be set free, but his story is just one of many elephants that haven’t been free. We are still constantly fighting to protect the elephants and other wildlife and should use Kavaan’s story as an example that no animal in the world deserves to be treated in such a way.
This story is guaranteed to warm your heart 🐘 ❤️@Cher & The Loneliest Elephant, our documentary about #KaavansJourney is coming soon. Stream it early this Earth Day - April 22nd - exclusively on @ParamountPlus#CherTheLove #ParamountPlus pic.twitter.com/VvyYtv7UpG— Smithsonian Channel (@SmithsonianChan) April 8, 2021
Dr. Amir Khalil, a veterinarian from the international animal welfare organization Four Paws International, played a critical part in caring for Kaavan and preparing him for his release from the Pakistani zoo. He knew that it was important to form a special bond with Kaavan in order to gain his trust and begin to train him to fit in his travel cube. This was such a long journey for Kaavan and Dr. Amir Khalil that you could see he tears in his eyes when the journey ended. Although Dr. Amir was happy that Kaavan was getting a brand new start and a chance to live a happy life, you knew that he was going to miss Kaavan and their special moments.
SAVING #Kaavan 🐘— City's🐘 for Elephants & Rhinos (@CitysFElephants) June 28, 2021
Dr Amir Khalil thought he was just going on another job. The veterinarian from the Vienna-based charity #4Paws had been invited to Pakistan, where he was tasked with training a five-tonne Asian elephant for relocation to Cambodia.
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