US pop star Cher, Four Paws Director Dr Amir Khalil and Kaavan at Marghazar Zoo of Islamabad. Image Credit: Supplied

Islamabad: Iconic pop star Cher is in Islamabad to witness the relocation of, Kaavan, aka the world’s loneliest elephant, to a sanctuary in Cambodia tomorrow.

Kaavan’s relocation is going to be one of its kind, as the 5.1-ton heavy elephant will be airlifted in an equally heavy metal crate through a chartered plane from Pakistan to Cambodia.

According to the Four Paws Director of Project Dr Amir Khalil, the flight time is 8 hours long and Kaavan will have to stand in the crate for 14 to 15 hours taking into consideration the transportation time from the zoo to the airport and then at its destination.

The cargo plane, a Russian aircraft Ilyushin Il-76, will arrive Sunday morning (Nov 29) and leave the same evening. It will also make a brief stopover at an Indian airport for refueling purpose and for examination of the animal’s health by the vets accompanying him.

US star Cher arrived on Friday and held a meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan the same day. On Saturday, she visited the Marghazar Zoo of Islamabad to see Kaavan and to learn about the arrangements being made for his relocation.

She was told by Dr Amir Khalil all the arrangements have been finalized and both the countries, Pakistan and Cambodia have issued CITES permits for his relocation. Besides the metal crate is also ready to take Kaavan to the airport, said Khalil.

Moment Cher waited for years

“This is something I have been waiting for all these years”, said Cher adding she raised voice for Kaavan’s plight and “thanks to the international community, Four Paws, Free the Wild, Friends of the Islamabad Zoo, the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) and many other organizations and individuals who gave an overwhelming response to my call and made it possible,” said the 74-year old pop singer.

On Cher’s request the zoo workers, Four Paws team and animal activists withdrew from the scene temporarily and she spent some quiet moments with Kaavan. She also sang to Kaavan and expressed her love for the animal.

Later, while returning to her fans and all those present at the site, she said joyfully “Finally, we are here to see off Kaavan and wish him ‘bon voyage.’”

Cher surprised the audience with the information that she had adopted an elephant back in the US and was very much aware of their behaviour, likes and dislikes. I am sure a peaceful, romantic and retired life is awaiting Kaavan in Cambodia and I am happy that I have contributed to this goal, she said.

Cher’s personal security staff and the Islamabad administration and police had taken unusual security measures turning the zoo into a no-go area ahead of her arrival and only those whose names were cleared a day earlier were allowed to enter the zoo.

Kaavan will be released in the sanctuary that is spreading over thousands of acres. There, three female Asian elephants are waiting for Kaavan to raise a family of his own, Amir told Cher.

Later while responding to a question of Gulf News, Cher said in her Friday meeting, she found Prime Minister Imran Khan quite forthcoming. Prime Minister Khan agreed that not only Kaavan but all the animals should be treated with kindness and love and I am greatly impressed by his views, she said.

Kaavan was brought to Islamabad when he was one-years old. He was gifted to the then President Ziaul Haq’s daughter Zain Zia back in 1985 during the president’s visit to Sri Lanka.

He lived in Islamabad zoo for almost 35 years in a sorry state. He was lonely, chained and underfed.

After his female companion’s death in 2012, he developed signs of aggression. Later, he was named a killer elephant when he killed a zoo employee.

After Cher’s tweets and the IHC historic decision in May this year, Four Paws and the partner animal rights NGOs joined hands and raised funds for Kaavan’s relocation.