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Cher helps save the Kaawan elephant from captivity in Pakistan

She is the 74-year-old, eternally glamorous “Goddess of Pop”. He spent 27 years in chains, once killed a killer at the zoo and is called the loneliest elephant in the world.

The couple is unlikely to meet next week in Cambodia, where they will plunge into a jungle once controlled by the Khmer Rouge, while a 35-year-old bull elephant named Kaawan has been moved to a shrine years later in captivity in Pakistan.

The move will cover years of efforts to rescue Caavan, who was gifted as a baby by the government to Sri Lanka to the head of the Pakistani army. He found himself at the Islamabad Zoo, where he lost his wife Saheli in 201

2. He was reportedly beaten and chained after trampling one of his guards to death, stealing his food and eventually crashing. in self-harm and mental illness.

Kaavan has become a zebra cause among animal rights activists – no less famous than Cher, the Oscar-winning actress and singer who co-founded Free the Wild, a wildlife charity.

Its co-founder, Mark Cohen, said the pop legend was on his way to Pakistan and would then travel to Cambodia, where she, the 4-ton Caavan and their staff would navigate the quarantine requirements of the COVID-19 pandemic and two tangled Asian bureaucracies.

Details of Cher’s journey are kept secret, in part because the Smithsonian Channel is filming a documentary about him. Free the Wild officials denied requests for an interview with Cher, but said in a press release that she was “so proud” to be involved in the rescue.

Cher has been hinting at coming to Cambodia since May, when Kaawan was released by court in Pakistan. She called his freedom one of the “greatest moments” of her life, and tweeted in October that “she can’t wait to sing to him on the way to Cambodia.”


Pop legend Cher helped lead efforts to save the Kaawan elephant from Pakistan.

(Anthony Harvey / AFP / Getty Images)

Cher learned of Kaavan’s plight in 2016 and hired a legal team to push for his freedom, citing inhuman treatment of a foreign animal. While Asian elephants rode long distances in the wild, Kaawan was kept in a small enclosure with some greenery at the zoo in the Pakistani capital.

In May, the Islamabad Supreme Court ordered the elephant and hundreds of other animals to be released from the zoo and ordered the facility closed.

“It’s definitely a victory,” said Martin Bauer, international public relations manager at Four Paws, a global animal welfare organization involved in rescuing Kaavan. “It’s not like we do that, because Kaavan is a brilliant object – that’s what we do. We expose suffering, save animals in need and protect them. “

Bauer said Four Paws, founded 30 years ago, has helped save hundreds of animals. Dr. Amir Khill, a four-legged veterinarian treating Kaavan, has rescued more than 100 animals from the zoo off the Gaza Strip, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon in the past four years, Bauer said.

The cost of the operation was split between Free the Wild and Four Paws, with Free the Wild paying for air travel along with journalist and businessman Eric Margolis. A source close to the operation said the whole price was in the middle of the six-digit numbers.

Kaavan in the enclosure at the Islamabad Zoo, where he has lived for three decades.

Kaawan was seen on duty in 2016 at the Islamabad Zoo.

(Anjum Naveed / Associated Press)

The plans call for Kaavan – considered by rescue organizations to be one of the largest animals ever transported by plane – to board a Russian cargo lift equipped with a special stall designed to prevent him from falling in flight. Cher, in a tweet, described the container as “a very large dog box.”

Cher is expected to take a separate flight and meet with Kavaan on Monday in the Cambodian city of Siem Reap, Cowne said. The elephant will be transported by truck to the Cambodian wildlife sanctuary in a few hours, where an initial enclosure for Kaavan has been prepared.. Three female elephants also roam the jungle, giving him the friendship he lacked in Pakistan.

“For Cambodia, we are proud to have been chosen as a place for Caavan. We will take care of the elephant and we will take care of its health, “said Net Feaktra, a spokesman for the Cambodian Ministry of the Environment.

Officials said Cher and others involved in the rescue would comply with coronavirus-related health requirements in both Pakistan and Cambodia, requiring visitors to quarantine two days after arrival. Cambodia did not report any deaths from COVID-19, but the recent revelation that an infected Hungarian diplomat had entered the country closed schools in Phnom Penh, the capital, for two weeks.

“The government is very strict at the moment, understandably,” said Darik Thomson, co-founder of the Save the Elephant Foundation, which runs Cambodia.

Coon said the traveling country would be virtually in its own bubble and in a remote location, which should allow the mission to continue as planned, with little fanfare and media kept at a distance.

“The authorities have been extremely helpful and we will do our best to follow the rules they have given us,” he said.

Rescue of animals on this scale is rare, but it will not be the first for Cambodia – in 1971 Adm. John McCain, the father of the late Senator John McCain, received an elephant from the then Prime Minister of Cambodia, Lon Nol. The elephant, which was carrying ammunition for the Viet Cong guerrillas, was moved by an adult McCain to the children’s section of the Los Angeles Zoo.

Still, for some Cambodians, Cher was the bigger story.

At the hairdressing salon and bar Space, a gay club in the red light district of Phnom Penh, news of the upcoming arrival of the LGBTQ icon drew applause and an impromptu broadcast of her 1998 hit “Believe.”

“I love her. I dream of meeting her,” said Sofeap Chuk, 37, a hairdresser, model and owner of Space Hair. “I’ve been playing her music here every night for eight years.”

Chuck said he would travel five hours to Siem Reap to try to catch a glimpse of Cher and ask her to visit his bar.

“I hope she loves Cambodia,” he said. “It’s the best thing that happens to us all year.”

McDermid and Bopha Phorn are special correspondents. Special correspondent Rathana Phin contributed to this report.

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