How Cher Used her Superstar Status to Rescue an Elephant

“Goddess of Pop” Cher is famous for reinventing herself in musical trends across six decades, winning Academy Awards, and devoting herself to philanthropic causes of all kinds – but with one recent cause that she lent her star power to, she has once again captured the public’s attention and warmed their hearts: the rescue of “the world’s loneliest elephant.”

Some fresh sand delivered, Kaavan couldn't wait for the skidsteer to leave!#49daysspot.fund/KAAVAN

Kaavan – The World’s Loneliest Elephant

Since 1885 when he was only a year old, Kaavan the elephant was living, chained, in the notorious Marghazar Zoo in Pakistan. For many years, he shared his enclosure with another elephant, his partner Saheli. Tragically, she died in 2012 due to an infection, leaving Kaavan alone.

Elephants are social creatures, and it is believed that elephants grieve losses in much the same way that humans do. After her death, Kaavan was alone in his enclosure for eight years.

The zoo was due to be shut down in 2020 due to unsafe conditions. However, those who had heard the lonely elephant’s story and visited the zoo felt that another four years might be too long for Kaavan to wait. In 2016, an international rescue campaign to save Kaavan began.

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An International Rescue Campaign

Since at least 2011, people in Pakistan had been doing everything they could to raise awareness about Kaavan, but it wasn’t until 2015 when an animal loving visitor to the zoo spotted the elephant’s condition and sparked a petition that gathered 404,978 signatures. The petition reached all the major Pakistani animal rights organizations, but even they were unable to convince the organization with the authority with the authority to release Kaavan to a sanctuary (Capital Development Authority Islamabad, also known as CDA.)

The Islamabad community speaks out! #FREEKAAVAN

First, children protested outside the zoo, demanding that Kaavan be released from his chains. Then protests took place all around the world, including Canada, the USA, Netherlands, UK and New Zealand.

Cher Gets Involved

In June of 2016, Cher heard about the plight of Kaavan and the efforts of activists to rescue him. She was in the process of preparing for a world tour, but she knew that the elephant didn’t have time to wait, so she sent Mark Crowne, the co-founder of her charity Free the Wild, and singer Hussain Manaweer to Islamabad to start advocating on her behalf.

A post shared by Cher (@cher)

Instantly, the story became a media sensation. While the CDA refused to respond to even official requests to sign off on Kaavan’s transfer to a sanctuary, Cher’s interest in the lonely elephant had brought tons of attention to the story. Suddenly social media all around the world was flooded with pictures of neglected Kaavan, snapped by concerned citizens scared for his health and safety.

With no end in sight, Cher got personally involved. She offered to personally raise the funds needed to cover Kaavan’s release, wrote to multiple Pakistani government officials, even inviting them to the US or London, to discuss the situation as her guests.

Kaavan’s Release

After more than five years of campaigning from Cher and Free the Wild, Kaavan was finally released from the zoo on November 30th, 2020. Cher personally met with Prime Minister Kahn to thank him for working with her to give Kaavan a happy ending.

Kaavan was then transported to the Cambodia Wildife Sanctuary, which is part of the Save Elephant Foundation – but that was far from an easy process either.

“Transferring an adult elephant on a plane is something very, very rare,” said Four Paws spokesperson Martin Bauer, in an interview with NPR, “An elephant transfer by plane on this scale I think has never happened before.”

A custom crate had to be built just to hold Kaavan on the plane. Throughout the flight he remained conscious, and was watched over by an entire team of vets. According to Bauer, it will all be worth it when he arrives at the sanctuary.

Some fresh sand delivered, Kaavan couldn't wait for the skidsteer to leave!#49daysspot.fund/KAAVAN

“The sanctuary has three female elephants to keep Kaavan company. It’s the best hope for him,” Bauer assured. “The goal is to socialize him. It will take a while because he has lived on his own for such a long time. But yes, ultimately the goal is to bring him together with other animals because that’s what elephants want. They’re herd animals, they always form families, and that’s also what we plan for him.”

Kaavan’s jungle enclosure at the sanctuary is still being built. Fans who have followed his can check in daily to watch him interact with the other elephants and get used to his new home.

A New Documentary – Cher & The Loneliest Elephant

For Earth Day (April 22nd) Paramount+ is streaming the Smithsonian’s new documentary about Cher’s quest to rescue Kaavan early. The film is said to cover all the ins and outs of the pop icon’s journey to save the elephant.

Doubtless, Cher won’t use this victory as just a time to celebrate, however. Her organization’s website lists seven more elephants and one gorilla that she hopes to save – and we know from this viral story how Cher can leverage her star power for a good cause.

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Sources: Rolling Stone, NPR, NOVA, Four Paws, Free the Wild, Cambodia WS

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