Stunning images show Cher meeting the ‘World’s Loneliest Elephant’ Kavaan after she flew to Pakistan to secure his rescue in November last year.
The singer, 74, said she felt ‘swept up’ in a social media campaign to free the malnourished Asian elephant, who had spent nearly 20 years chained up in a zoo.
Cher spearheaded the online campaign before flying out to the country to ensure a life of freedom for the mistreated creature.
New images show Cher meeting the animal for the first time, ahead of a documentary due to be aired about the campaign on Thursday evening.
Cher said her fans’ persistence convinced her to help Kaavan and said: “I never actually intended to. I just got swept up in it because the kids on my Twitter feed started sending me these pictures. It was all ‘free Kaavan, free Kaavan.”
‘And I looked at the pictures, and they were terrible, but I thought, “I can’t do anything,” so I didn’t answer them and thought eventually they’d just stop.
‘But they didn’t, and so I started to get involved.’
During his time in captivity, the creature was prodded to beg for tips while living in a cramped, dilapidated shed under the punishing Islamabad sun.
Kaavan’s living conditions led to dire health problems, including obesity, before his only mate died of neglect.
His plight led to a social media campaign that caught Cher’s attention, and she eventually helped earn Kaavan his freedom.
The story features in the documentary Cher & The Loneliest Elephant, which will air on the Smithsonian Channel.
Cher co-founded Free The Wild with partners Mark Cowne, Gina Nelthorpe Cowne, and Jennifer Ruiz.
She recorded the song Walls to boost the movement. Her efforts paid off in May 2020 when a court in Pakistan ordered Kaavan to be freed.
Working with the international rescue organization Four Paws and vet Dr. Amir Khalil, the team found Kaavan a home in a wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia.
In November 2020, Cher flew halfway around the world to secure the elephant’s rescue, captured in Cher & The Loneliest Elephant.
On using her celebrity for good, Cher said: ‘It’s not the first time I’ve done something like this, but it’s all been done with human beings.
‘So it is challenging because people now send me pictures and videos all the time; it’s hard and Free The Wild; we’re working on a bunch of animals right now, but you don’t get them quickly.
‘So you have to start on all of them at one time and hope that you’ll be able to talk people into letting them go to a sanctuary.’
The elephant – Pakistan’s only Asian elephant – has languished in a zoo for 35 years and lost his partner in 2012.
He was diagnosed by veterinarians as both overweight and malnourished last year and also suffered behavioral issues.
After years of lobbying by animal rights groups and activists, he left captivity for a sanctuary in November. The battle for his relocation began in 2016.
Martin Bauer of Four Paws told The Associated Press: ‘Thanks to Cher, but also local Pakistani activists, Kaavan’s fate made headlines around the world, and this contributed to the facilitation of his transfer.’
Even after he is in Cambodia, he will require years of physical and even psychological assistance, Mr. Bauer said.
Pakistan’s high court in May ordered the closure of Marghazar Zoo in the capital of Islamabad, where Kaavan has lived for much of his life.