Kaavan, a 36-year-old overweight Asian elephant who was dubbed the ‘world’s loneliest elephant’ after his partner died in 2012, has now landed in Cambodia. After a seven-hour flight from Pakistan, Kaavan received a warm welcome from American singer Cher, who then accompanied him to a sanctuary housing potential mates.
Pakistan’s only Asian elephant has spent years in grim conditions in a controversial Islamabad zoo where he suffered from a lack of exercise as well as cracked and malformed nails due to living in an inappropriate structure. Understandably, the case of Kaavan prompted global uproar from animal rights groups who petitioned for him to be moved from the zoo. Since 2016, Cher has been part of the social media campaign working towards his relocation.
Earlier this year, Islamabad’s High Court closed the zoo over its poor conditions and gave the animal welfare organisation Four Paws permission to remove Kaavan, who Sri Lanka gifted to Pakistan 35 years ago, when he was a baby, according to the organisation.
On Sunday 29 November, Cher travelled to Pakistan to see the elephant off before beginning his plane journey to Cambodia. The pop star even serenaded Kaavan with the song ‘A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes’.
Before the flight, specialists from Four Paws trained the elephant for the small enclosure and loud noises he’d experience on the flight, using bananas and other treats. Amir Khalil, a veterinarian from Four Paws shared that Kaavan’s much-anticipated journey was “uneventful” and that the elephant behaved “like a frequent flyer.” “Kaavan was eating, was not stressed—he was even a little bit sleeping, standing, leaning at the crate wall,” he added.
For Kaavan’s arrival in Cambodia on Monday 30 November, Cher waited to greet him at Siem Reap airport wearing a black face mask and waving excitedly at the plane. “I am so proud he is here,” she told AFP, after greeting Kaavan through an opening at the base of the crate. “He’s going to be really happy here,” added Cher, saying she was hopeful his ordeal was now over.
According to a statement from the Smithsonian Channel, which is producing a documentary on the elephant’s story, Cher found out about Kaavan from people on Twitter. “I thought, ‘how can I fix this? How can I save an elephant who’s been shackled to a shed for 17 years and who is a thousand miles away?’,” she said. “This is Free The Wild’s first big rescue and I am so proud.”
Before Kaavan was transported to the sanctuary, monks offered him bananas and watermelon, chanting prayers and sprinkling holy water on his crate to bless him. Non-profit Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary said in a Facebook post that Kaavan will now live in a huge jungle enclosure, where most of his food will be provided naturally—although he’ll also get fruit treats to “satisfy his sweet tooth.” Three other elephants live at the sanctuary.
Four Paws, along with Islamabad authorities, also safely moved three wolves and some monkeys from the zoo. Two Himalayan brown bears, one deer and one monkey remain in the zoo.
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Watching cute animal videos makes us feel good, we know that already—but now science is backing this up too, with data. A study conducted by the University of Leeds in partnership with Western Australia Tourism examined how watching images and videos of cute animals for 30 minutes drastically affects blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety.
An associate professor at the University of Leeds, Dr Andrea Utley, created a montage of animals that she assumed people would find cute. Speaking to CNN, she explained that “There were some kittens, [some] puppies, [some] baby gorillas. There were quokkas. You know, the usual stuff that you would expect.”
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) the quokka is described as the world’s happiest animal. These small wallabies of Australia seem to wear a perpetual smile, and are the subject of countless selfies on Rottnest Island.
But what proof is there that watching these animals makes us truly healthier? Utley’s study involved nineteen students and teachers and was intentionally conducted in December 2019, during the students’ winter examinations, which is an understandably high stress period for students as well as teachers. While the 15 students and four staff members were made to watch 30 minutes of the animal compilation that Utley had created, the study recorded that average blood pressure dropped from 136 to 88 to 115 to 71, which he pointed out was an ideal blood pressure range.
Utley commented that “I was quite pleasantly surprised that during the session, every single measure for every single participant dropped some—heart rate reduced, blood pressure reduced, when they left, they filled the questionnaire in again and indicated that they were feeling less anxious.”
These students also concluded that they preferred the video clips over still images, especially when the animals interacted with humans. Due to COVID-19 setting off restrictions at the beginning of 2020, when Utley had hoped to continue a wider study, this in-person experiment was forced into postponement, however she is still exploring online options in order to keep the study running.
Canine companions and pets in general trigger similar neural pathways to the parent-baby bond, and reduce loneliness as well as depression. Because not all of us have access to a furry friend, videos of them seem to still trigger similar responses.
This is due to a form of social recognition, which is something humans share with a few (though not all) mammals. Next time you scroll through the video section on Facebook, you’ll notice you feel a little less like you’re wasting time and a little more like you’re taking care of yourself. Treat yourself.