How Cher Helped Free "The World's Loneliest Elephant"

By

CCSS NCSS-9 586 Words 4-Minute Listen
Cher helped rescue Kaavan, a 36-year-old elephant, from a zoo in Pakistan (Credit: Friends of Islamabad Zoo/Facebook)

The cameraman zooms in on the anxious elephant, who paces back and forth. However, the pachyderm's demeanor instantly calms down upon hearing a soothing ballad from Disney’s Cinderella, “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes," sung to him by none other than American singer and actress Cher. The now-viral poignant video, published on YouTube on November 30, 2020, was the culmination of the pop singer and animal activist's four-year-long quest to save Kaavan, “The world's loneliest elephant."

Kaavan was just a year old when Sri Lankan officials gifted him to Pakistan in 1985. The now 36-year-old Asian elephant spent a large part of the next three decades shackled in chains in a confined space at the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad, Pakistan. He was only brought out periodically to entertain zoo visitors by raising his trunk as a begging bowl when his mahout prodded him with a bullhook — a rod with a sharp hook. To make matters worse, his partner Saheli, a female elephant who arrived at the zoo in 1990, died in 2012, leaving the social animal with no companion. Lonely and isolated, Kaavan's mental and physical health rapidly deteriorated.

Kaavan was shackled with chains that prevent him from moving more than a few steps at a time (Credit: Freethewlld.org)

The animal's plight spurred activists to start a #FreeKaavan social media campaign that urged Pakistani officials to move the mammal to an elephant sanctuary. However, their pleas fell on deaf ears. In 2016, Cher was scrolling through her Twitter feed when she noticed messages by fans urging her to help Kaavan. "'They would not stop saying 'Cher, you have to do something, you have to fix this, you have to save him,’ ” she said in a Smithsonian Channel interview. “I thought, how can I fix this? How can I save an elephant who’s been shackled to a shed for 17 years and who is a thousand miles away?"'

After much deliberation, she reached out to fellow animal activists Mark Cowne and his wife, Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne, to help her launch a social media campaign to improve Kaavan’s living conditions. They first pushed for Kaavan to be unshackled and then persuaded the zoo to add a tin roof over his shed, water in the pool, and a tire for him to play with.

Kaavan is already making friends at the Cambodia Sanctuary (Credit: Freethewlld.org)

While the reforms were encouraging, the team soon realized that more needed to be done and established Free the Wild — a nonprofit organization dedicated to rescuing Kaavan and other wild animals in similar situations. It took over four years, but in 2020, an Islamabad high court ordered the Marghazar Zoo to shut down and relocate all its animal residents to new homes.

For Kaavan, that meant taking a seven-hour flight to the beautiful Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary. Located in the provinces of Preah Vihear, Siem Reap, and Odor Mean Chey in the Kingdom of Cambodia, the approximately one-million-acre refuge is home to many wild animals, including tigers, bears, leopards, and, of course, Asian elephants.

Bua Noi, a female gorilla, has spent most of her life in a cage at Bangkok's Pata Zoo (Credit: Freethewlld.org)

According to Kaavan's new keeper, Sok Hong, the elephant is adjusting extremely well to his new habitat and has even picked his favorite female elephant from the three he has been mingling with since arrival. Once the pachyderm has been completely rehabilitated, he and his three female companions will be released and allowed to roam freely in the sanctuary's expansive grounds. As for Cher? She is already busy trying to free Bua Noi, a female gorilla who has spent the last three decades in a cage in the dilapidated Pata Zoo, located on the top floor of a Bangkok shopping mall!

Resources: www.freethewild.org, BBC.com, cambodiawildlifesanctuary.com, theguardian.com

Get the Workbook for this article!

Workbook contains: Article, Reading Comprehension, Critical Thinking Questions, Vocabulary in Context (+ answers), Multiple Choice Quiz (+ answers), Parts of Speech Quiz (+ answers), Vocabulary Game (+ answers)
Cite Article
170 Comments
  • elliotto
    elliottoFriday, January 15, 2021 at 5:56 pm
    Some zoos are so cruel!
    • amonguslegend
      amonguslegendFriday, January 15, 2021 at 12:08 pm
      I feel bad for the thing!
      • lyvyvunylyga
        lyvyvunylygaFriday, January 15, 2021 at 11:04 am
        wow this article was one of the best things if read on here but the best part was looking at the elephant he his probably a very intelengent elephant and i wish to see him one dayUwU
        • hibiscusflower
          hibiscusflowerFriday, January 15, 2021 at 10:37 am
          Awww :) it makes me feel good to know he has a nice home!
          • ultima_werewolf
            ultima_werewolfFriday, January 15, 2021 at 10:23 am
            kaavan must be so happy now
            • noitspatrick
              noitspatrickFriday, January 15, 2021 at 9:26 am
              how sweet
              • nreadingrocks
                nreadingrocksFriday, January 15, 2021 at 5:48 am
                Wow. That's really amazing. Love it!
                • thehiddenforbid
                  thehiddenforbidThursday, January 14, 2021 at 1:47 pm
                  only famous people can save animals it feels liek :(
                  • prodancer
                    prodancerSaturday, January 16, 2021 at 5:56 pm
                    Animals can do awesome things like one time I was filling up my dogs (buddy and Wyatt) water bowl because it was empty and buddy got the first drink and while he was drinking Wyatt got in line behind him😄
                  • savegecheld
                    savegecheldThursday, January 14, 2021 at 12:49 pm
                    FREE ALL ANIMALS
                    • sebiboy2011
                      sebiboy2011Thursday, January 14, 2021 at 11:48 am
                      Save the elephants!!!!