Cher’s rescue of an elephant long-held in deplorable conditions is a one-of-a-kind story, as expected from a singular star.
Even she was amazed at what her efforts – in collaboration with a group of animal support groups, wildlife veterinarians, and Pakistan’s legal system – have achieved for Kaavan, she said during a discussion taping.
“I don’t know anything about this. I’m just an entertainer. I can’t save this elephant,” Cher recalled thinking when the animal’s plight was brought to her attention with what she calls “the kids” on her Twitter feed.
They demanded the release of Kaavan from a ramshackle zoo, now closed in Islamabad, Pakistan, where the mission launch was detailed in “Cher & the Loneliest Elephant,” which premiered Wednesday on the Smithsonian Channel.
Cher accepted the challenge after seeing a photo of the 4-ton animal chained in a solitary, cramped cage and was in apparent weakness, both physically and mentally.
Recalling a brief encounter with businessman Mark Cowne and his interest in wildlife, she sought his help. As a result, Free The Wild, an organization co-founded by Cher, Cowne, Gine Nelthorpe Cowne, and Jennifer Ruiz to campaign for Kaavan, has been successful for four years.
(Free The Wild’s expansive mission is to “prevent the suffering of wild animals in captivity” and release them to better-equipped sanctuaries or zoos. )
Cher recorded a song, “Walls,” to amplify the growing social media buzz over Kaavan’s release, and her involvement went far beyond her comfort zone: She flew to Pakistan during the C.O.V.I.D-19 pandemic when, she said, the government did just that. Karavan’s status was transferred to a sanctuary in Cambodia after a court ordered the zoo to be closed.
Her brand image was showcased in the documentary, in which she admitted to being hesitant about the journey she and a small group of close people were about to take.
“I kept saying to my friends… Are we really going to Pakistan? Is this happening?” she recounted during the panel discussion of her efforts and documentary film production. “Then I just went, ´Yeah, come on. You’re doing it. Don’t play around and just do it.”
There were so many times that it seemed like the attempt was going to fail that she honestly began to wonder if “would anyone care what I’m trying to do.”
Her tireless efforts led to an adorable scene in which Cher is coaxed by veterinarian Amir Khalil to bond with Kaavan by feeding him watermelon and singing the elephant’s favorite song. : “My Way” written by Frank Sinatra.
The chart-topping pop star balked at the impromptu performance because she hadn’t sung recently. Other reasons: The song selection, and her duet partner, the admirable but out-of-tune Khalil, who lovingly cared for Kavaan during his difficult transition to a new life.
“Cher and the loneliest elephant” premieres at 8 p.m. and repeats at 10 p.m. EDT Wednesday on the Smithsonian Channel. It will air again at midnight EDT Thursday and is available on the Smithsonian’s video-on-demand channel and on Paramount+’s streaming service.