PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – Pakistan’s lonely elephant Kaavan arrived in Cambodia by cargo plane on Monday to start a new life with 600 fellow pachyderms at a local sanctuary, the result of years of campaigning for his relocation by American singer Cher.
Cher was on the tarmac at the airport of Cambodia’s second-biggest city Siem Reap to greet the elephant and met the vets who accompanied Kaavan on his long journey in a custom-made crate, with more than 200 kg (441 lbs) of food to keep him busy.
Animal rescue organisation Four Paws said 36-year-old Kaavan, who had spent most of his life at Islamabad Zoo without a companion, would be released from his crate in daylight on Tuesday at a sanctuary.
“Kaavan was eating, was not stressed, he was even a little bit sleeping, standing leaning at the crate wall. He behaves like a Frequent Flyer,” said Amir Khalil, a Four Paws vet.
“The flight was uneventful, which is all you can ask for when you transfer an elephant.”
The multi award-winning singer posed for pictures at the airport in sunglasses and a black facemask holding up a Pakistan vehicle license plate bearing her name and that of the elephant.
Cher had written songs pressing for Kaavan’s release from grim, isolated conditions at Islamabad Zoo and she had spent the last few days with him in Pakistan.
Dozens of wildlife workers and experts led by Four Paws had used a winch and rope to pull the sedated elephant into the crate before he was loaded onto the Russian-built cargo plane.
His crate had the words #FreeKaavan painted on the outside.
Neth Pheaktra, Secretary of State and spokesman of Cambodia’s Environment Ministry, lauded Four Paws and Cher for their efforts to help Kaavan and said Cambodia would be the ideal home for him.
“Cambodia is pleased to welcome Kaavan. No longer will he be the world’s loneliest elephant,” he said at a welcome ceremony.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Additional reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in Islamabad; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)