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A horribly neglected elephant suffering from mental illness has finally been set free thanks to a campaign backed by Cher

Josh Milton May 22, 2020
Cher shared her delight in the news that a lonely elephant in Pakistan is being freed. (Mike Marsland/Mike Marsland/WireImage/AAMIR QURESHI/AFP via Getty Images)

Cher shared her delight in the news that a lonely elephant in Pakistan is being freed. (Mike Marsland/Mike Marsland/WireImage/AAMIR QURESHI/AFP via Getty Images)

The world can often feel like a thumping drumbeat of bleak news, but in a truly pure turn of events, Cher shared her delight after Pakistani courts freed Kaavan, a lonely elephant, Thursday evening (May 21).

“This is one of the greatest moments of my life,” Cher tweeted as the news broke that the Islamabad High Court ordered for the release of Kaavan, whose empty eyes while being chained in a zoo enclosure caught the attention of the “If I Could Turn Back Time” hitmaker in 2016.

Kaavan, a 36-year-old Sri Lankan elephant, has suffered from mental health issues for years while based at Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad.

Pakistani residents gather around elephant Kaavan at the Marghazar Zoo on the Eid holidays in Islamabad on July 7, 2016. (FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP via Getty Images)
Pakistani residents gather around elephant Kaavan at the Marghazar Zoo on the Eid holidays in Islamabad on July 7, 2016. (FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP via Getty Images)

Footage of Kaavan chained in his pinched habitat – only 90 by 140 metres large – and without a mate drew mass condemnation from animal rights activists  – Cher included – who have tirelessly fought to free relocate him to a better pen since.

Cher celebrates elephant’s release with all-caps praise for Pakistan’s government.

“OK, sit down, Cher tweeted, “are you all sitting down?

“We have just heard from Pakistan [sic] Hight Court, Kaavan is free.”

In a series of scattered tweets, Cher excitedly told her millions of followers the court ruling, even later correcting herself – “Pakistani” – later.

She thanked the advocates and organisations who lobbied for the release, spotlighting how they “never gave up”.

Before tweeting out a cascading series of all-caps messages praising Pakistani lawmakers and how she’s unsure whether the sickness she feels is from excitement, from the cake she at in the night, or both.

The capital city’s court ordered that wildlife officials consult Sri Lanka to find Kaavan a “suitable sanctuary” within 30 days, according to Friends of Islamabad Zoo, an animal welfare advocacy group.

Kaavan, held in captivity for decades, will now be released, courts rule. 

It’s a ruling that brings to a close a yearslong, topsy-turvy battle between animal rights organisations and zoo organisers.

A petition tallying more than 200,00 signatures surged after Kaavan’s treatment at the hands of zookeepers went viral, the South China Morning Post reported.

Zoo officials stressed that the elephant was only briefly chained due to exhibiting anger issues. They attributed it to the enduring stress of his partner’s passing in 2012, noting they are finding Kaavan a new mate.

But animal behavioural experts warned that Kaavan was tangled in trauma, no doubt, they said, from years spent inside a tight, small habitat alone.

Elephant Kaavan stands under the cover of its shed behind a fence at the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad on May 22, 2020. (AAMIR QURESHI/AFP via Getty Images)
Elephant Kaavan stands under the cover of its shed behind a fence at the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad on May 22, 2020. (AAMIR QURESHI/AFP via Getty Images)

Safwan Shahab Ahmad of the Pakistan Wildlife Foundation noted Kaavaan dully bopped his head in distress, demonstrating a “kind of mental illness” in 2016.

Moreover, the pen Kaavan was housed in was suffocating in size, activists pleaded, and did little to shelter him from the sweltering summer heat. He was brought to the zoo aged just one in 1985.

Wild Asian elephants, according to the World Wildlife Fund, roam in lush, leafy fields in subtropical forests in Sri Lanka.

A stark contrast to Kaavan’s captivity, where the pen’s floors were dusty dirt tracks and there was little shade other than a lone, stone alcove.

More: animal rights, Cher, elephant, Islamabad High Court, Kaavan, Pakistan

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