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Cher meets 'world's loneliest elephant' Kaavan in Pakistan zoo after securing his trip to sanctuary

The 'world's loneliest elephant' met Cher in a Pakistan zoo before he left to live out his retirement in a Cambodian sanctuary on Sunday.

His departure comes following years of campaigning by animal activists including American singer and actress Cher, who helped to secure his trip to the Cambodian sanctuary.

The elephant named Kaavan, an overweight Asian bull elephant, has languished in a zoo in Islamabad for 35 years, and lost his partner in 2012.  

Kavann will now be sent to a new home, a 25,000-acre wildlife sanctuary in Siem Reap in northwestern Cambodia where he will spend his retirement with other elephants. 

The famed singer and Oscar-winning actress, 74, recently arrived in Pakistan after she helped free him from a zoo for a new home and has spent recent days at the Islamabad zoo to provide moral support the elephant. 

This is the moment Cher met the 'world's loneliest elephant' in a Pakistan zoo after she helped to secure his trip to a Cambodian sanctuary where he will live out his retirement

The elephant named Kaavan, an overweight Asian bull elephant, has languished in a horror zoo in Islamabad for 35 years, and lost his partner in 2012. His departure comes following years of campaigning for his release by animal activists including the 74-year-old American singer and actress (pictured right)

He was diagnosed by veterinarians as both overweight and malnourished earlier this year, and also suffers behavioural issues.

Kaavan's pitiful treatment at the dilapidated facility sparked an uproar from animal rights groups and a spirited social media campaign by Cher.

'My wishes have finally come true', Cher said in a statement thanking her charity Free The Wild.

'We have been counting down to this moment and dreaming of it for so long and to finally see Kaavan transported out of (the Islamabad) zoo will remain with us forever.'

Kaavan's case and the woeful conditions at the zoo resulted in a judge this year ordering all the animals to be moved. 

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. 

Cher met with Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad on Friday on the expansive grounds of his residence ahead of the release of the elephant Kaavan, with Mr Khan personally thanking the star

Volunteers paint an image of an elephant on a crate which was used to transport Kaavan to the wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia on Sunday. Cher was due to fly to Cambodia on Sunday to be in the Southeast Asian nation when the elephant arrives

'Thanks to Cher and also to local Pakistani activists, Kaavan's fate made headlines around the globe and this contributed to the facilitation of his transfer,' said Martin Bauer, a spokesman for Four Paws International - an animal welfare group that has spearheaded the relocation effort.

Mr Bauer lauded the powerful impact celebrity voices can have for animal rights, saying: 'Celebrities lending their voices to good causes are always welcomed, as they help starting public discourse and raising pressure on responsible authorities.'

Experts spent hours coaxing a slightly sedated Kaavan into a specially constructed metal crate - at one point using ropes to help pull him in - that was to be hoisted onto a lorry and taken to Islamabad airport.

A slightly sedated Kaavan was coaxed into a specially constructed metal crate - at one point using ropes to help pull him in - that was to be hoisted onto a lorry and taken to Islamabad airport.

From there, Kaavan will be sent via a Russian transport jumbo jet for the lengthy flight to Siem Reap in northwestern Cambodia. The plane will stop for refuelling in New Delhi.

Cher spent several days in the capital to visit Kaavan before the trip to a 25,000-acre Cambodian wildlife sanctuary, with Prime Minister Imran Khan personally thanking the star.

She met with Mr Khan on Friday and his office released a video of the singer sitting with the prime minister outside on the expansive grounds of his residence.

Cher was due to fly to Cambodia on Sunday to be in the Southeast Asian nation when the elephant arrives.

Officials said Kaavan will initially be kept in a small designated section of the park where he can see other elephants.

'Sending him to a place where he can be with other elephants of his kind ... is really the right choice,' climate change minister Malik Amin Aslam told AFP.

'We will be happy to see him happy in Cambodia and we hope he finds a partner very soon.' 

A team of vets (pictured) and experts from animal welfare group Four Paws International have spent months working with Kaavan to get him ready for the trip to Cambodia, which has included training the elephant to enter the massive metal transport crate that will be placed in a cargo plane for the seven-hour flight

On Tuesday, with music, treats and balloons, friends of Kaavan threw a farewell party for the creature ahead of his relocation.

The zoo was decorated with balloons for the occasion and banners wishing the animal well. 'We will miss you Kaavan,' read one of the signs. 

Dubbed by the press as the 'world's loneliest elephant', Kaavan is the only Asian elephant in Pakistan - the tiny number of other elephants at other zoos are African.

A team of vets and experts from Four Paws have spent months working with Kaavan to get him ready for the trip to Cambodia, which has included training the elephant to enter the massive metal transport crate that will be placed in a cargo plane for the seven-hour flight.

Friends threw a farewell party for Kaavan on the Tuesday before his departure with music, treats and balloons

Zoo officials have in the past denied Kaavan was kept in substandard conditions or chained, claiming instead the creature was pining for a new mate after his partner, Saheli, who also arrived from Sri Lanka, died in 2012. 

But Kaavan's behaviour - including signs of distress such as continual head-bobbing - raised concerns of mental illness.

Activists also said Kaavan was not properly sheltered from Islamabad's searing summer temperatures. 

Rights groups and conservationists have said that the abysmal conditions at the Islamabad zoo resulted in part from the lack of legislation in Pakistan aimed at protecting animal welfare.

'There's a lot of improvement to be made,' said Rab Nawaz with the World Wildlife Federation in Pakistan.

'Kaavan is just one animal. There's lots of animals in Pakistan... which are in miserable conditions.' 

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