American singer Cher talks to veterinarian Amir Khalil of Four Paws as she watches Kaavan in his enclosure at Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad on Saturday. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad
American singer Cher talks to veterinarian Amir Khalil of Four Paws as she watches Kaavan in his enclosure at Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad on Saturday. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad

ISLAMABAD: American pop icon Cher, who had campaigned for years for Kaavan’s release, finally got to meet the animal at Marghazar Zoo on the eve of its departure to a sanctuary in Cambodia.

The singer spent some time with the elephant and filmed her documentary that follows its journey to freedom. It is expected to premiere in 2021. “The documentary will be heartwarming,” Cher said in her twitter message.

During her visit, she sang to Kaavan, fed him fruits and cried at one point, sources in the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board said.

The American singer will accompany Kaavan to his retirement home in Cambodia. The short clip of the documentary, which Cher posted on her twitter account, describes Kaavan as the ‘world’s loneliest elephant’, having languished in Islamabad zoo for the last 35 years.

Its producers begin with Kavaan’s many physical and psychological ailments and how things are about to change for the animal whose story garnered attention of an unexpected ally.

“I am not too proud to beg you on my knees to let Kaavan go to freedom. He has been chained most of his life. Please help me. Can I soften your heart? Kaavan deserves happiness before he dies,” Cher says in her documentary.

Cher co-founded the organisation ‘Free the Wild’ to help stop the suffering of wild animals in captivity. Working with the animal wellness organisation, Four Paws, Cher’s dream has become a reality. The zoo has been ordered to close and Kaavan will be transported to a new home - a sprawling 25,000 acre sanctuary where he can be an elephant.

The short documentary says Kaavan will have ample space to roam in the sanctuary and will start his road to recovery in the enriched environment he needs.

Preparations to transport Kaavan are complete and he will begin his seven-hour flight on Sunday morning. Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Malik Amin Aslam is expected to hold one last press conference before the elephant departs.

A Russian cargo plane has especially been chartered to transport the animal to its retirement place, which was made possible after a lengthy campaign by local and international animal rights activists.

Kaavan arrived in Pakistan in 1985 as a presidential gift from the Sri Lankan government. In 2002, the animal was put in chains by the zoo administration due to its aggressive behaviour. The chains were removed around five years ago following public outcry.

On Friday, Cher met Prime Minister Imran Khan to thank him for making it all possible for her to take Kaavan to Cambodia.

While Cher spent time with the elephant, a little crowd gathered outside the zoo to catch a glimpse of the American pop singer, and more importantly to see Kaavan one last time.

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2020

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