Cher sheds tears of joy as Pakistan's loneliest elephant wins freedom

Kaavan, a 33-year-old elephant living a sorry existence in Islamabad zoo, to be released after campaign by pop icon

The plight of an animal known as Pakistan’s loneliest elephant is set to come to an end after a court declared he should be freed from Islamabad zoo – to the delight of his longtime champion, pop icon Cher.

Kaavan, a 33-year-old Asian elephant from Sri Lanka, has been the focus of a four-year campaign by Cher to secure his release from Murghazar Zoo in Pakistan’s capital, after the singer saw pictures of the elephant living alone and held miserably in chains in a small enclosure, with only a small dirty pond to play in.

On Thursday, Islamabad high court ruled that Kaavan should be freed, and ordered wildlife officials to consult with Sri Lanka to find him a “suitable sanctuary” within 30 days.

The news was met with triumph by Cher, who declared it to be one of the greatest moments of her life. Writing on twitter, Cher said tears were rolling down her face at the decision. She thanked the Pakistani government and then simply tweeted “Pakistani”.

The life of Kaavan has become one of turmoil. He arrived in Pakistan as a one-year-old, a gift to former dictator General Zia-ul-Haq from the Sri Lankan government, but began to be held in chains in 2002 when zookeepers were concerned about his increasingly violent tendencies.

Cher said it was one of the greatest moments of her life. Photograph: Georg Hochmuth/AFP/Getty Images

He began to show further distress after his mate Saheli, who arrived from Bangladesh in 1990, died in 2012. No other company was brought in for him, despite elephants being sociable animals who need companions, and he began to be known as Pakistan’s loneliest elephant, cutting a sorry figure in the zoo.

Kaavan’s woes continued until recently. Last year his keepers were suspended for stealing his food and a few months ago it was discovered that wild boars had been breaking into his enclosure and stealing his bread and fruit. Kaavan was also found to be severely dehydrated.

In 2016 his case was taken up by Cher, who sent a representative to the zoo to try to get him released from captivity, and a petition for his freedom had hundreds of thousand of signatures.

The singer said she could barely believe Kaavan’s freedom was now secured. “It’s so emotional for us that I have to sit down,” tweeted Cher.


Hannah Ellis-Petersen South Asia correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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