PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — The pachyderm dubbed the "world's loneliest elephant" after languishing alone for years in a Pakistani zoo was greeted on his arrival in Cambodia on Monday by chanting Buddhist monks and was then sent on his way to a wildlife sanctuary.
Like other travelers during these times, Kaavan needed to be tested for COVID-19 before his flight. Once his large metal crate was safely on board, Kaavan was provided with in-flight snacks — 440 pounds of them — for the seven-hour journey.
Kaavan was not stressed during the flight, eating his food and even getting a little bit of sleep standing in his crate, said Amir Khalil, a veterinarian who accompanied him on the flight and works with Four Paws, the Vienna-headquartered animal rescue group that organized the move.
The plight of the male Asian elephant has captured worldwide attention, including from the American singer and actor Cher, who has been closely involved in his rescue and was in Cambodia for Kaavan's arrival.
Cher's animal welfare group Free the Wild has worked with Four Paws and the American syndicated columnist and philanthropist, Eric Margolis, to relocate Kaavan — a mission that's cost about $400,000.
The 36-year-old, 9,000-pound elephant received a warm welcome on arrival in Cambodia from officials, conservationists and the Buddhist monks, who chanted prayers for his harmony and prosperity.
Kaavan, a 1985 gift from Sri Lanka to Pakistan, had been living in the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad with his partner Saheli, who died in 2012. The zoo fell on hard times, and conditions got so bad that a court in the Pakistani capital ordered the zoo closed in August.
According to Four Paws, very few adult elephants have ever been relocated by plane, so preparations were arduous.
Veterinarians and elephant experts working for Four Paws spent three months in Islamabad, coaching Kaavan three times a day on how to enter and exit his four-ton travel crate safely. He was also dangerously overweight due to his unsuitable diet of about 550 pounds of sugar cane each day. With Khalil's help, Kaavan lost 1,000 pounds over the past three months.
Kaavan's wounds are emotional as well as physical. He would spend his days throwing his head from side to side, a stereotypical sign of boredom and misery in an elephant, said Martin Bauer, a spokesman for Four Paws.
Photos capture rare 'elephant queen' before her death in Kenya
Will Burrard-Lucas captured a series of black-and-white photographs of a "big tusker" roaming in Kenya's Tsavo National Park. Shortly after he took his last shot, the "elephant queen" died of natural causes.