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Kaavan is seen extending his trunk over the low wall of his enclosure as artist Cher gives him fruit
Kaavan taking fruit from Cher in 2021
SpeciesAsian elephant
Born1985 (age 38–39)
Sri Lanka
Years active1985–2020 in Pakistan
2020–present in Cambodia
Known forLengthy captivity and eventual relocation after international campaign

Kaavan (Urdu: کاون; born 1985) is a male Asian elephant known as the "world's loneliest elephant"[1] since his partner, 22-year-old Saheli, died in 2012.[2] Kaavan was gifted by the government of Sri Lanka to Pakistan in 1985. He remained at the Islamabad Zoo until November 2020, when he was moved to a sanctuary in Cambodia,[3] in response to a campaign launched by local and international animal rights activists, led by American singer Cher.[4][5]

In May 2020, the Islamabad High Court ordered Kaavan to be released.[6]


Kaavan was born in Sri Lanka in 1985 and was kept at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. The Sri Lankan government gifted him to then-President of Pakistan, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, when Kaavan was one year old.[7] The elephant was kept at the Islamabad Zoo and remained as the only Asian elephant living in Pakistan.[3][8] An elephant named Saheli was brought from Bangladesh in 1990 as Kaavan's partner until her death in 2012.[1]

Campaign to free Kaavan[edit]

An American veterinarian, Samar Khan, visited Islamabad Zoo in 2015 and was disturbed by Kaavan's condition and environment. She started a petition on Change.org to plead for Kaavan's release to an elephant sanctuary. Khan's petition received more than 400,000 signatures and caught the attention of American singer Cher.[9]

In response to the petition, zoo officials took some steps to improve Kaavan's care, such as providing additional water and removing his chains.[9] Safwan Shahab Ahmad, the vice-chairman of Pakistan Wildlife Foundation, identified some of Kaavan's behavior as a kind of mental illness, possibly connected to the conditions in which he was kept. These included a pen too small for the elephant and a lack of shade and foliage. Officials at the zoo countered that Kaavan had been removed from restraints and just needed a new mate.[10]

In September 2017, a news report highlighted the dire condition in which Kaavan was living, including being bound in chains for over two decades.[11] A second petition requesting Kaavan's release gathered more than 200,000 signatures.[10][12] Owais Awan, a Pakistani lawyer, sued the Islamabad Zoo to demand Kaavan’s release.[9]

On 21 May 2020, the Islamabad High Court ruled that Kaavan should be freed and the zoo closed.[9] It ordered wildlife officials to consult with Sri Lankan authorities to find a suitable sanctuary for Kaavan in another country within thirty days.[13][14] The court also criticised the zoo officials for failing to meet the animal's needs in terms of the violation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1890 and Wildlife Ordinance of 1979.[15]

Relocation to Cambodia[edit]

On 17 July 2020, Free the Wild announced that the Pakistan government had ruled that FTW had their consent to relocate Kaavan to Lek's sanctuary in Cambodia—"A place we have personally visited and vetted and are delighted for Kaavan to call home".[16] From September to November 2020, veterinarian Amir Khalil from the animal welfare organisation Four Paws, with the support of journalist and businessman Eric Margolis, Cher,[17] and veterinarian Frank Goeritz from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, examined[18] and approved Kaavan for relocation to the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary.[19]

Cher arrived in Pakistan to bid farewell to Kaavan and a ceremony was also organized at the Islamabad Zoo, which was attended by officials, activists, and members of the public.[20] The President of Pakistan, Arif Alvi, and First Lady Samina Alvi, along with various ministers and delegates, also bid the elephant farewell.[21] The move was completed on 30 November 2020.[22]

In July 2021, the sanctuary completed construction of a "jungle home" with a pool, and Kaavan was introduced into the spacious new area.[23]

Cher & the Loneliest Elephant[edit]

In March 2021, Paramount+ announced the release of a documentary film, titled Cher & the Loneliest Elephant, detailing the singer's quest, alongside animal aid groups and veterinarians, to free Kaavan from confinement and have him transferred to a wildlife sanctuary.[24] The film premiered on 22 April 2021 on the streaming platform and 19 May on the Smithsonian Channel.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "'World's loneliest elephant' heads to Cambodia". The Express Tribune. 30 November 2020. Retrieved 3 December 2020.
  2. ^ "Saying goodbye: 22-year-old Saheli passes away at Islamabad zoo". The Express Tribune. 1 May 2012.
  3. ^ a b "'Loneliest' elephant Kaavan set to leave for Cambodian sanctuary". DAWN.COM. AFP. 29 November 2020. Retrieved 3 December 2020.
  4. ^ "Freedom for Kaavan". thenews.com.pk. 24 May 2020. Retrieved 25 May 2020.
  5. ^ "Pakistan to free elephant Kaavan after campaign by US singer Cher". Al Jazeera. 22 May 2020. Retrieved 24 May 2020.
  6. ^ Ebrahim, Zofeen T. (12 August 2020). "Release of Kaavan the elephant reignites zoo debate in Pakistan". DAWN.COM. Retrieved 3 December 2020.
  7. ^ Khan, M Ilyas (28 November 2020). "Kaavan, the world's loneliest elephant, is finally going free". BBC News. Retrieved 3 June 2021.
  8. ^ "Last elephant standing". 13 September 2015. Retrieved 24 May 2020.
  9. ^ a b c d Nuwer, Rachel (21 April 2021). "How Cher Helped Rescue the World's Loneliest Elephant". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 3 June 2021.
  10. ^ a b "Saving Kaavan plan in trouble". Eastern Eye. 22 July 2016. p. 21. ProQuest 1807675282.
  11. ^ Sabri, Farid (29 September 2017). "Will the CDA allow Kavaan to die a dignified death?". Pakistan Today. Retrieved 15 July 2021.
  12. ^ "Kaavan, Pakistan's lonely elephant". Ahmedabad Mirror. 8 July 2016. Retrieved 23 December 2020.
  13. ^ Iqbal, Nasir (22 May 2020). "IHC wants Kaavan to be relocated to appropriate sanctuary". DAWN.COM. Retrieved 24 May 2020.
  14. ^ "Islamabad High Court Recognizes the Rights of Nonhuman Animals". The Nonhuman Rights Project. GLOBE NEWSWIRE. 21 May 2020. Retrieved 25 May 2020.
  15. ^ "Saving the elephant". DAWN.COM. 24 May 2020. Retrieved 24 May 2020.
  16. ^ "Kaavan Set to Retire to Cambodian Elephant Sanctuary". freethewild.org. 17 July 2020.
  17. ^ "Cher — yes, Cher — helps a captive elephant find a new home in Cambodia". Los Angeles Times. 26 November 2020.
  18. ^ Greenfield, Charlotte (7 September 2020). "With songs and sedation, experts aim to rescue Kaavan the Islamabad elephant". Reuters – via www.reuters.com.
  19. ^ "Pakistan animal lovers prepare to say goodbye to Asian elephant Kaavan". gulfnews.com.
  20. ^ "How Kaavan attained freedom after 35 years". The Express Tribune. 1 December 2020. Retrieved 3 December 2020.
  21. ^ "President, first lady bid adieu to Kaavan leaving for Cambodia on Nov 29". Associated Press Of Pakistan. 24 November 2020. Retrieved 3 December 2020.
  22. ^ "'World's loneliest elephant' Kavaan arrives in Cambodia with help from Cher". NBC News. Associated Press. 30 November 2020. Retrieved 1 December 2020.
  23. ^ Friedman, Barbara (15 July 2021). "Kaavan the elephant finally moves into his jungle home". CapeTalk. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  24. ^ "Watch Cher Save an Elephant in Cher & the Loneliest Elephant Documentary". news.yahoo.com. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  25. ^ "'Cher & The Loneliest Elephant' to Premiere on a Very Fitting Day". Billboard. 24 March 2021. Retrieved 30 March 2021.