An elephant dubbed the “world’s loneliest” after languishing alone for years in a zoo in Pakistan was greeted on his arrival in Cambodia by chanting Buddhist monks and was then sent on his way to a wildlife sanctuary.
Like other travellers during these times, Kaavan needed to be tested for Covid-19 before his flight.
Once his large metal crate was safely on board, Kaavan was provided with in-flight snacks — 440lbs of them — for the seven-hour journey.
Kaavan was not stressed during the flight, eating his food and even getting a little bit of sleep standing in his crate, said Amir Khalil, a vet who accompanied him on the flight and works with Four Paws, the Vienna-headquartered animal rescue group that organised the move.
“He behaves like a frequent flier. The flight was uneventful, which is all you can ask for when you transfer an elephant,” the vet said.
The 36-year-old, 9,000lb elephant received a warm welcome on arrival in Cambodia from officials, conservationists and the Buddhist monks, who chanted prayers for his harmony and prosperity.
Kaavan, a 1985 gift from Sri Lanka to Pakistan, had been living at Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad with his partner Saheli, who died in 2012. The zoo fell on hard times and conditions got so bad that a court in the Pakistani capital ordered it to be closed in August.
The plight of the male Asian elephant has captured worldwide attention, including from the American singer and actor Cher, who has been closely involved in his rescue and was in Cambodia for Kaavan’s arrival.
Cher’s animal welfare group Free the Wild has worked with Four Paws and the American syndicated columnist and philanthropist, Eric Margolis, to relocate Kaavan.
According to Four Paws, very few adult elephants have ever been relocated by plane, so preparations were arduous.
Vets and elephant experts working for Four Paws spent three months in Islamabad, coaching Kaavan three times a day on how to enter and exit safely and without stress his four-ton travel crate.
The loss of his mate Saheli took a toll on Kaavan’s mental health. Elephants are social animals that thrive on the company of other elephants.
“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,” said a statement from Neth Pheaktra, a spokesman for the Environment Ministry.