Don’t worry Kaavan, Cher’s got you, babe. The 36-year-old Asian elephant, who had been dubbed the "world’s loneliest elephant" since his partner died in 2012, arrived at a Cambodian sanctuary on Tuesday after spending most of his life in captivity — and it’s thanks in part to Cher.
The 74-year-old singer explained on Twitter that after she saw a picture of Kaavan “shackled in a shed” and “unable to move,” she started praying for a better future for the creature she had never met.
“I found out about Kaavan from the people on my Twitter,” Cher said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “They would not stop saying, ‘Cher, you have to do something, you have to fix this, you have to save him.’ I thought how can I fix this? How can I save an elephant who's been shackled to a shed for 17 years and who is a thousand miles away?”
But she didn’t let the distance get to her. Years before, she had met Mark Cowne, CEO of talent management agency Kruger Cowne, so she asked him to help her save the elephant. They launched a social media campaign in 2016, but it was Cowne who truly went the distance. Over the course of four visits to Islamabad, where Kaavan was held, he started what Cher called all sorts of “good trouble,” getting the elephant unshackled and also putting a tin roof over his shed, water in the pool, and a tire for him to play with — despite her saying that the actions “pissed everyone off.”
“He fought, I begged, we were alone,” Cher wrote on Twitter, explaining that that was when they came up with the name Free the Wild, and founded the organization to overcome mistreatment of animals in the wild.
Their hard-fought battle paid off this morning as Kaavan woke up for the first time in the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary, greeted with a cake that read, “Welcome Kaavan.”
The elephant, who was a gift from Sri Lanka to Pakistan 25 years ago, had been held in Islamabad’s Marghazar Zoo where his cracked and malformed nails were just one sign of the poor conditions he lived in, CNN reported. The city’s High Court closed the zoo earlier this year.
Animal welfare organization Four Paws International organized Kaavan’s transfer and announced that Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi even stopped by to say goodbye to the animal on Nov. 24, ahead of his release. Kaavan was trained to survive in the small enclosure he was transferred in before his departure.
Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary has been preparing for the elephant’s arrival for weeks, ensuring that he’ll get a proper diet and that most of his food will come from natural sources in the jungle. “And, of course, he will also get some fruit treats, including watermelon, banana, pineapple, corn, etc., just enough to satisfy his sweet tooth,” they posted on Facebook.
Cher traveled to Pakistan before Kaavan’s big trip and serenaded him with “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” CNN reported.
The entire journey will be part of a 2021 special on the Smithsonian Channel called Cher’s Elephant Airlift.
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