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World's Loneliest Elephant Is Moved To Be With More Pachyderms

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Next we have a story about the loneliest elephant in the world. Sounds like the title of a children's book, doesn't it - the loneliest elephant. But this is a true story of Kaavan, an elephant in Islamabad, Pakistan. Veterinarian Dr. Amir Khalil says Kaavan spent more than three decades entertaining visitors at a zoo.

AMIR KHALIL: Thirty years of them was chained and mistreated. They were - forced him sometimes to drink whiskey and vodka.

INSKEEP: In 2012, Kaavan's enclosure mate died, and he's been alone ever since.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Dr. Khalil works with the global animal welfare group Four Paws. He says that when he met Kaavan four years ago, the elephant was aggressive, depressed and obese. Not long after Dr. Khalil's visit, someone unexpected learned about Kaavan's situation.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME")

CHER: (Singing) If I could turn back time.

INSKEEP: Kaavan caught the attention of Cher, who launched a campaign to pressure Pakistan to shut the crumbling zoo and relocate the animals. And the country's high court closed that zoo in May of this year.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And on Dr. Khalil's advice, Kaavan was to be moved to a sanctuary in Cambodia where 600 elephants live. So he's going to have some company. That's right, 600 elephants. Think of all the friends to be made and the fun to be had.

INSKEEP: But moving Kaavan was no easy undertaking. Dr. Khalil says the elephant had to drop weight and learn to stay on the transport crate.

KHALIL: And somehow, I find a way to calm the elephant by music. So I was singing to him every day. He loved Frank Sinatra music - "I Do It My Way" (ph). I have ugly voice - very bad. But I have only friend which is Kaavan.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

KHALIL: It's enough for me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: After several weeks, Kaavan was ready to make the journey, but of course not without his biggest fan. Cher actually flew to Pakistan to meet Kaavan before his big trip.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHER: (Singing) No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true.

INSKEEP: On Monday, Kaavan was led into his crate and, using a crane, boarded a seven-hour flight to Cambodia.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He know how to fly like he is frequent flyer. He was really a good passenger - calm, cooperative till we arrived.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And, of course, social media was buzzing with videos of Kaavan's first steps into his new home.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KHALIL: Good, good.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Dr. Khalil says that that moment for him was truly special.

KHALIL: It was great for me as a person because I was intensely protectant. I have a special bond with the elephant.

INSKEEP: Which is no longer the loneliest elephant in the world.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In the audio, we say that Kaavan, the world's loneliest elephant, was moved to a sanctuary where 600 elephants live. While there are about 600 wild elephants in Cambodia, they are not all in the conservation area where Kaavan was relocated.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: December 3, 2020 at 12:00 AM EST
In the audio, as in a previous version of the headline, we say that Kaavan, the world's loneliest elephant, was moved to a sanctuary where 600 elephants live. While there are about 600 wild elephants in Cambodia, they are not all in the conservation area where Kaavan was relocated.
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