Friday Nov 27, 2020
ISLAMABAD: American singer Cher, commonly referred to by the media as the "Goddess of Pop", on Friday met Prime Minister Imran Khan during a visit to Pakistan to see Kaavan — the "world’s loneliest elephant" who is all set to go to his new home at a sanctuary in Cambodia.
The prime minister's office confirmed her arrival, which was not revealed earlier to public due to security concerns.
The office shared a video of Cher sitting with PM Imran Khan in the expansive grounds of the latter's residence, with the premier's aides Malik Amin Aslam and Sayed Zulfikar Bukhari present.
Kaavan, an elephant who has languished in Islamabad's Marghazar Zoo for more than three decades, lost his partner in 2012. He has been alone at the zoo since and veterinarians diagnosed him as malnourished and overweight.
Cher is in Pakistan to oversee Kaavan's long-awaited departure to Cambodia on November 29, where he will be with other elephants and hopefully fare better.
She thanked PM Imran Khan "for making it possible for [her] to take Kaavan to Cambodia" and "for ensuring a cleaner and greener Pakistan", according to the Prime Minister's Office.
She has been closely following developments related to Kaavan's freedom, expressing her delight when a court had ordered him to be set free from the zoo and thanking the Pakistani government for its efforts.
The premier appreciated her efforts in retiring Kaavan to an elephant sanctuary abroad, lauding her campaign and role in this regard. He also "invited the singer to participate and contribute towards the government's initiative for the expansion of protected areas, to which she kindly agreed".
The prime minister's office quoted Cher as saying "both the 'Protected Areas Initiative' and the '10 Billion Tree Tsunami' initiative of the government were highly commendable and praiseworthy as nature based tools for climate mitigation".
She also offered her support for furthering the green initiatives through her organisation "Free the Wild", according to the PM Office.
Kaavan's final move to Cambodia comes after years of campaigning and lobbying by animal rights activists and groups. His departure for Sunday was confirmed by Martin Bauer of Four Paws International, a global animal welfare group that has led the charge to save him since 2016, according to the Associated Press.
Bauer also said Kaavan would need years of physical and even psychological help even after his arrival in Cambodia.
The poor animal was kept in chains at the Islamabad zoo and exhibited symptoms of mental illness, prompting global outrage over his treatment and a petition demanding his release that garnered over 400,000 signatures.
A medical examination in September indicated that animal's nails were cracked and overgrown due to years of living in an improper enclosure with flooring that damaged his feet, Sky News reported.
The publication also quoted Ingo Schmidinger, one of the animal experts helping with the move, that Kaavan "needs to be with other elephants".
"You can definitely compare his behaviour to human behaviour. He needs to talk elephantish, he needs to show elephant behaviour and that's all for the moment not possible," Schmidinger told the publication.
Back in May, the Islamabad High Court had ordered Kaavan's freedom and instructed wildlife officials to find him a "suitable sanctuary" — a 25,000-acre wildlife space in Cambodia. Aslam, the premier's aide on climate change, had said authorities would "ensure that he lives a happy life".
"We are bidding Kaavan farewell with a heavy heart. It is a sad decision," he had added.
A few days ago, President Dr Arif Alvi had said goodbye to Kaavan, who was also given a farewell party, with balloons and music. Al Jazeera reported that local bands serenaded the lonely elephant ahead of the mammoth move.
Dr Amir Khalil, an Egyptian veterinarian with Four Paws who has been with Kaavan since quite a few months to take care of him, pampering and making him feel better before he is airlifted to Cambodia, said there were chances that the elephant might find love at his new home.
Dr Khalil, who has now developed a very strong emotional bond Kaavan, said he had tried not to form attachments with animals since he "was always moving".
While many elephants were already at the Cambodia sanctuary, three females were awaiting Kaavan’s arrival, the veterinarian said, joking that the "world's loneliest elephant" might find a girlfriend there!