Kaavan, the 35-year-old Asian elephant rescued from Pakistan and brought to Cambodia last month by a multinational group of conservationists, will no longer be the ‘loneliest elephant in the world’.
He is adapting to his new surroundings in a wildlife sanctuary and is beginning to be resocialised with other elephants in the area.
Sok Hong, president of the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary (CWS) and the elephant’s new caretaker, said Kaavan has not yet been introduced into an environment in the wild because he will need a few months to adjust to other elephants and recover after many years of suffering.
Depending on his progress, Kaavan could be released to live outside the enclosure like three other female elephants in the Kulen Prum Tep Wildlife Sanctuary in Oddar Meanchey province.
“I think it will not be long because this elephant has already been domesticated to some extent. Our immediate plan is to feed and train him to live like other wild animals. Elephants are emotional creatures with caring hearts like humans. And before Kaavan arrived here, he lost his loving partner. He still misses his mate,” Hong said, referring to Kaavan’s partner who died in 2012.
“But now we see that he is interested to interact with one of the three females.”
During a visit to Siem Reap province on December 18, Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra said: “Kaavan has been called the loneliest elephant in the world. He is not lonely anymore after being sent to live here.”
Pheaktra added that the new resident of the sanctuary was doing well in his new environment, regularly interacting with the elephants already living in the area.
“Cambodia will provide a new life and hope for this lonely elephant. The team of conservationists who rescued him from a zoo in Pakistan prevailed in a legal battle, and the High Court of Pakistan decided to set Kaavan free and send him to live in our wildlife sanctuary,” he said.
For over five years, international activists including celebrities like American signer Cher, the CWS and other organisations worked to rescue the elephant from Islamabad’s Marghazar zoo and set him free in a natural forest. Kaavan was eventually relocated to the Kulen Prum Tep Wildlife Sanctuary in Oddar Meanchey province under the care of the environment ministry and CWS.
Kaavan’s species is designated as threatened. Cambodia has only 400 to 600 wild Asian elephants living in protected forest areas in Ratanakkiri and Mondulkiri provinces and in areas of the Cardamom Mountains. There are also at least 70 domesticated elephants.
Darrick Thomson of Thailand’s Save Elephants Foundation has accepted the task of taking care of Kaavan for his first three months in Cambodia.
He told The Post he would ensure Kaavan is given a new life in which he is protected rather than exploited.
“Taking care of Kaavan now means not using him for entertainment and making money. He will not be subjected to do what is not in his nature,” he said.
According to a ministry estimate, a 10-year action plan to preserve wild Asian elephants will require $40.5 million, with funding anticipated to come from the national budget, NGOs and development partners.