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Cambodia ready to welcome ‘world’s loneliest elephant’

World's loneliest elephant
Buddhist monks perform a ceremony to bless the crate containing Kaavan the Asian elephant upon his arrival in Cambodia from Pakistan at Siem Reap International Airport in Siem Reap on November 30, 2020. TANG CHHIN Sothy / AFP

SIEM REAP, Cambodia, Nov 30, 2020 (AFP) – An elephant dubbed the “world’s loneliest” was set to land in Cambodia on Monday from Pakistan, headed for a sanctuary housing three potential mates, an official said.

The case of Kaavan — an overweight, 36-year-old bull elephant — sparked global uproar from animal rights groups, who petitioned for his move from an Islamabad zoo accused of substandard care and conditions.

His cause was boosted by a spirited social media campaign by American singer Cher, who travelled to Pakistan to see him off.

“Cambodia is ready to welcome Kaavan,” deputy environment minister Neth Pheaktra told AFP Monday.

The elephant is expected to land in tourist hotspot Siem Reap around 2 pm (0700 GMT), before being transported to neighbouring province Oddar Meanchey where a wildlife sanctuary awaits him.

“We expect to breed Kaavan with local elephants — this is an effort to conserve the genetic fold,” the minister said, adding that the sanctuary also houses three female elephants.

Dubbed the world’s loneliest elephant by the press, Kaavan was the only Asian elephant in Pakistan.

But the conditions at the Islamabad zoo were so bad that a judge in May ordered that all the animals be moved.

A team of vets and experts from Four Paws, an Austria-based animal welfare group, has spent months working with Kaavan to get him ready for the trip — a complicated process due to his size and the amount of food needed en route.

The elephant also had to be taught to enter the massive metal crate that was placed in a cargo plane for the seven-hour flight.

But “Kaavan quickly gained confidence in us and made great progress in a short time”, said Four Paws veterinarian Dr Amir Khalil in a statement Monday.

Four Paws, along with Islamabad authorities, also safely moved three wolves and some monkeys from the zoo. Currently only two Himalayan brown bears, one deer and one monkey remain.

Superstar Cher is expected in Cambodia to be part of Kaavan’s welcome entourage. bur-dhc/leg  Agence France-Presse