'World's loneliest elephant' gets some help from Cher during resettlement to Cambodia

Cher's presence was initially not made public for security concerns.

The "world's loneliest elephant" has been resettled at a sanctuary in Cambodia after receiving some assistance from iconic singer Cher.

Kaavan, a 36-year-old, 9,000-pound elephant, was given the nickname after he was diagnosed as being emotionally and physically damaged while living in a zoo in Islamabad, Pakistan, for 35 years. During that time, Kaavan was mostly chained in his enclosure, and when his partner died in 2012, her body laid next to him for several days before it was removed. Veterinarians have diagnosed Kaavan as being overweight, malnourished and suffering from behavioral issues due to isolation.

Cher, who has been advocating for Kaavan's resettlement along with her animal welfare group Free the Wild, met with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday and later visited Kaavan before his flight on Sunday.

Kaavan was tested for COVID-19 before his seven-hour journey, which was complete with 440 pounds of snacks. Amir Khalil, a veterinarian who accompanied him on the flight and works with Four Paws, the animal rescue group that organized the move, described Kaavan as behaving like a "frequent flier," telling The Associated Press that the elephant did not seem stressed and even slept while standing in his crate.

Very few elephants have been relocated by plane, according to Four Paws.

On Monday, Kaavan was greeted in Cambodia by chanting Buddhist monks before he made his way north by truck to his new home in the Oddar Meanchey province. Once he feels settled, he will be released from his temporary enclosure and allowed to roam the sanctuary, which houses about 600 Asian elephants, Neth Pheaktra, a spokesman for Cambodia's Environment Ministry, said in a statement.

Animal rights groups and activists lobbied for years to relocate Kaavan into better conditions.

Kaavan will require years of psychological and physical assistance, experts have said. Living in an enclosure with improper flooring caused his nails to crack and overgrow, and he developed a habit of shaking his head back and forth for hours, which veterinarians attributed to boredom.

The elephant has lost half a ton since his diet was changed to fruit and vegetables, Khalil said. He was previously eating about 550 pounds of pure sugarcane every day and some fruits and vegetables.

The Islamabad zoo where he spent much of his life has been ordered to shut down.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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