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Cher welcomes mistreated elephant from Pakistan to Cambodia

Siem Reap | After years of abuse in a zoo in Pakistan, the “world’s loneliest elephant” arrived in Cambodia on Monday, where it was greeted by famous American singer Cher, who had campaigned for his transfer.

Kaavan, a 36-year-old obese pachyderm, for whom Pakistani animal rights activists, backed by Cher, had mobilized, is to be welcomed into a Cambodian reserve which has some 600 other elephants.

The 74-year-old singer, wearing a black mask, eagerly awaited him at Siem Reap airport, where the plane carrying him landed at 2:30 p.m.

Kaavan’s trip went “without incident,” said Amir Khali, a veterinarian with the Austrian animal welfare organization Four Paws who was accompanying him, adding that the elephant behaved like a “regular in the trips ”.

“Kaavan ate, was not stressed, he even slept a little bit, got up and leaned on the wall of the metal box,” he said.

The pachyderm is to be moved to a reserve that spans 10,000 hectares, located in Oddar Meanchey Province.

Dubbed “the loneliest elephant in the world,” he lived in appalling conditions in a zoo in Islamabad where he was mistreated.

“Cambodia is happy to welcome Kaavan. It will no longer be the loneliest elephant in the world, “Deputy Environment Minister Neth Pheaktra told AFP.

“We expect him to breed with other elephants, it will be an effort to preserve his genetic footprint,” he added.

Long mobilization

Kaavan was the only Asian elephant in Pakistan, the others, few in number, being African pachyderms.

His transfer to Cambodia is the result of a campaign of mobilization that has lasted for years.

The case of this pachyderm and the deplorable state of the zoo in the Pakistani capital led a magistrate to order last May that all animals be transferred there.

The zoo administration has in the past denied that the animal was mistreated, saying it was simply waiting to find a new companion, after Saheli died from gangrene in 2012.

But international experts have observed stereotypical behavior in Kaavan – he often only turns his head and trunk from side to side for hours on end – that has raised questions about his sanity.

Rights groups and environmentalists believe the appalling living conditions for animals at the Islamabad Zoo are in part a result of Pakistan’s lack of legislation to protect animal welfare.

Cher, who partially contributed financially to the trip, said on Twitter that the decision to release Kavaan was “one of the best times” of his life.

A team of veterinarians and experts from Fou Pauws spent months preparing the pachyderm for the trip, a complicated process due to the size of the animal and the amount of food needed on the journey.

The elephant also had to be taught how to enter a massive metal box specially made for him, which was placed in the cargo plane for the seven-hour flight.

The elephant was given mild sedatives.

Cher met last week with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan who wanted to thank her personally.

Four Paws, working in coordination with the authorities in Islamabad, also transferred three wolves and several monkeys from the zoo, where only two Himalayan brown bears, a deer and a monkey remain.

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