The year 2020 brought all kinds of unprecedented challenges, most notably isolation and quarantine as millions around the world push back against the COVID-19 virus. It's been difficult finding the silver linings with so many struggling, but as we collectively began turning the page on the year and looking towards a brighter future in 2021, there's one elephant whose eight-year isolation finally came to an end.
At 36 years old, Kaavan captured the world's attention as the 9,000-pound Asian elephant left the only home he'd even known in search of a new family, ending the long and stressful saga of what's been dubbed "the world's loneliest elephant."
Story Behind "The World's Loneliest Elephant"
🐘Kaavan's journey to freedom from captivity in Islamabad to Cambodia will be a 2021 @SmithsonianChan documentary ❤️ Help us build Kaavan's forever home 🏡 https://t.co/dzdl4Ew4gn 🙏🏻@ftwglobal #KaavansJourney pic.twitter.com/iTxdzfndNB
— Cher (@cher) November 27, 2020
Kaavan lived at Pakistan's Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad since 1985; According to ABC News, the pachyderm was gifted from Sri Lanka when he was young. Kaavan lived there with his partner Saheli for nearly three decades. However, Saheli died in 2012, spiraling Kaavan into a state of unrest and mental health issues -- While male Asian elephants are polygynous by nature, this pair was inseparable for nearly 30 years and developed an obvious connection.
With the Pakistani capital's zoo falling on hard times, closing in August 2020, and conditions going from bad to worse in a hurry, it was time for Kaavan to end his isolation and move on.
Help was nearby. Global attention on Kaavan's plight spurred social media movements by several animal rights groups and brought aid from Four Paws International, as well as legal action from animal welfare group Free the Wild, which is spearheaded by none other than the "Goddess of Pop," Cher.
Due to a daily diet of nearly 550 pounds of sugar and inactivity that comes with captivity, Kaavan worked with veterinarian Dr. Amir Khalil to overcome his obesity and lose nearly 1,000 pounds in three months before making an unprecedented trek from the Islamabad zoo to a wildlife sanctuary in northern Cambodia. Four Paws, an animal rescue group headquartered in Vienna, oversaw the rare relocation project. (Very few elephants of Kaavan's age and size are moved, according to the organization.)
Kaavan was coached for three months on safely and comfortably entering and exiting his four-ton travel crate. The seven-hour flight required a system to hold up to 53 gallons of urine and 440 pounds of snacks (because who doesn't like flying without some munchies). The effort reportedly cost $400,000 to successfully pull off.
Kaavan Leaves Pakistan for Cambodia
#FreeKaavan 🐘: First steps in his new forever home!🌴
It is already dark and difficult to see, but we still want to make sure you are a part of this milestone – Kaavan stepping foot into the sanctuary in Cambodia for the first time. pic.twitter.com/pDeTvwrz6U
— FOUR PAWS (@fourpawsint) November 30, 2020
Cher was on the ground when Kaavan's cargo plane safely arrived in Cambodia, and he was greeted by chanting Buddhist monks before making the final journey to his new home.
"Once Kaavan feels at home in a controlled setting, he will be released in a wildlife sanctuary, in Oddar Meanchey province, in the northern section of Cambodia, where some 600 Asian elephants live in peace and tranquility."
-- Neth Pheaktra, spokesman for the Environment Ministry (via ABC News)
"Thanks to Cher and also to local Pakistani activists, Kaavan's fate made headlines around the globe and this contributed to the facilitation of his transfer," said Martin Bauer, a spokesman for Four Paws International.
Eight years of loneliness to more than 600 new friends. If 2020 brought us any good news aside from the coronavirus pandemic, it begins by uniting the "world's loneliest elephant" with his own kind and new life at the 25,000-acre Cambodian sanctuary.
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