Court orders zoo to free 'Pakistan's loneliest elephant'

May 22 (UPI) -- A Pakistani elephant named Kaavan will soon be set free into the wild after a long campaign by iconic entertainer Cher and a court ruling that said it should be released from a zoo in Islamabad.

The Oscar-winning actress and Grammy-winning singer advocated for the elephant's release for four years after seeing a photo of the animal appearing lonesome at the Murghazar Zoo. Thursday, the Islamabad High Court ordered Pakistani officials to work with Sri Lanka, the elephant's native country, to locate a sanctuary within 30 days.


"The pain and suffering of Kaavan must come to an end by relocating him to an appropriate elephant sanctuary, in or outside the country," the court wrote in its ruling.

The 33-year-old Asian elephant was sent to Pakistan more than three decades ago as a gift from former Sri Lanka dictator Gen. Zia-ul-Haq. Kaavan has been restrained with chains at the zoo on occasion since 2002 because zookeepers were concerned about his increasingly aggressive behavior.

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Also, Kaavan began to show more stress after his mate for 22 years, Saheli, died in 2012. Despite research that has shown elephants are social animals, no other made was provided for him after Saheli's death -- leading to Kaavan becoming known as "Pakistan's loneliest elephant."


Last year, zookeepers were suspended for stealing Kaavan's food and this year wild boards broke into his habitat and also stole his food.

After the court's ruling, Cher thanked the Pakistani government and said the news of the elephant's freedom moved her to tears.

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"This is one of the greatest moments of my life," the legendary musician wrote. "[Tears] down my cheeks.

"I wish to thank the Pakistani government!"

Mark Cowne, chief executive of the charity Free The Wild, said he's excited Kaavan will soon be freed.

"We were concerned about his mental health, he was in a very bad condition," Cowne said. "We really wanted to help him. He had been through a terrible time, locked up for 26 years, chained up for all that time."

"We've been trying so long," Cher added. "Mark is a giant of a man. He never gave up."

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