Loneliest elephant in the world arrives in Cambodia

FOUR PAWS safely transfers Kaavan from Pakistan to Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary


Cape Town – Today Kaavan has taken his first steps in Cambodia and into his new life. After a seven-hour flight that departed Islamabad International Airport in the early hours of 30th November, Kaavan was transported to his new home at Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary in Siem Reap Province. 

After weeks of training to familiarise the elephant with his crate and minimise the stress, the team from the global animal welfare organisation, FOUR PAWS accompanied Kaavan during the flight and closely monitored him to ensure he remained calm during the journey. Pivotal to this moment was NGO Free The Wild which via co-founder Cher has made the release of Kaavan a global issue, and US businessman, journalist and philanthropist Eric S. Margolis who co-funded the once-in-a-lifetime flight for Kaavan and the relocation of the other animals at Marghazar zoo.    

“Upon his arrival, Kaavan met another elephant for the very first time in eight years. Seeing Kaavan interacting with other elephants is a huge moment for us but more importantly for Kaavan. The whole FOUR PAWS team is extremely moved and we could not be prouder. Kaavan will finally have the chance to live a species-appropriate and peaceful life." 

Dr Amir Khalil, FOUR PAWS veterinarian and mission leader.

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In the days preceding Kaavan’s departure the President of Pakistan Dr. Arif Alvi, visited Marghazar zoo to officially bid farewell to the elephant who was gifted to the country 35 years ago. Now a species-appropriate home awaits Kaavan, where he will live with three female elephants in Cambodia. Dr Amir Khalil explains the realisation that years of hard work have finally been achieved: “FOUR PAWS, Free The Wild, local Pakistani officials and animal activists have worked tirelessly to rescue Kaavan and find him a more species-appropriate home. We have overcome many hurdles to reach this point, not least the global COVID-19 pandemic, but all of these challenges have made this achievement even more monumental. We cannot wait to watch as Kaavan adjusts to his new home, with companions and natural habitat. Now he can finally live the life he deserves and retire happily away from the watchful eye of the visitors that circulated his enclosure day after day.”

Years of planning and weeks of training

One of Kaavan’s biggest fans is global superstar, Cher. Co-founder of NGO Free the Wild, she and her team have been public supporters of Kaavan’s relocation, and she was by his side as he finally left Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad. “My wishes have finally come true. Together with Mark and Gina from 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 Marghazar zoo will remain with us forever.” FOUR PAWS CEO Josef Pfabigan said of the NGO’s first elephant transfer: This is a huge milestone for FOUR PAWS, and the elephant Kaavan. Today’s transfer is a demonstration that a better life can be achieved for thousands of captive animals and we know there is more work around the globe to reveal the suffering of these animals, to rescue them and to protect them in appropriate keeping. Kaavan is just one step toward the vision of FOUR PAWS – a world where people treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding.”

Kaavan’s journey from Pakistani zoo to Cambodian sanctuary

The 28-hectare Marghazar Zoo was originally opened in 1978 as a wildlife sanctuary in the Margalla Hills in Islamabad but was later converted into a zoo. The zoo has been owned by the Pakistani capital Islamabad since its opening. Elephant Kaavan came to Pakistan as a gift from Sri Lanka in 1985. From 1990 on, he shared his enclosure at Marghazar Zoo with his partner Saheli, but since her death in 2012, Kaavan has lived a lonely existence. Kaavan was the only Asian elephant left in Pakistan, meaning it was not possible to socialise him with other elephants. But now, he will have a chance to once again live in a herd at Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary, co-founded by Lek Chailert. Initially he will be released into a quarantine enclosure, of approximately one acre, where he will be managed by a protected contact system. After the quarantine he will be able to roam within another bigger enclosure and after full rehabilitation he will be able to roam within a huge, fenced area covering several hectares. Not only will he have more space, but there will be an abundance of natural enrichments that will provide a varied diet for the 36-year-old elephant.



FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. www.four-paws.org.za 

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