By Zoe Salvador

Elephants are enchanting creatures. With their massive bodies, piercing eyes, and ever-distinguishable trunks, they make for an animal that is very interesting to both see and learn about. It only makes sense that people would be willing to travel far distances in order to see these gentle giants.

However, elephants (as well as most wild animals) are not meant for a life of captivity.

Kaavan’s story

Kaavan is a male Asian elephant who had been living in a Pakistani zoo for 35 years. He previously lived with his partner, Saheli, but she has since passed away in the year 2012. That took a great toll on his mental health.

According to an article by NBC news, Kaavan would “spend his days throwing his head from side to side, a streotypical sign of boredom and misery in an elephant.” Like humans, elephants are social creatures. They thrive best in the company of their peers. They need social interaction in order to survive.

People who learned about Kaavan’s dilemma understood what pain he was in. This was why so many people had gotten together to support his rescue.

Celebrity supporter

Singer Cher was a big help to the mission, as she herself is an animal lover. She runs her own animal welfare group known as Free The Wild.

She worked very closely with the international animal welfare group Four Paws. With their help, the USD 400-thousand mission to relocate Kaavan fully ame to fruition. They found him a home at a wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia.

Drawing parallels

Here in the Philippines, we have a “lonely” elephant of our own. Her name is Mali. She is the only elephant who resides here, and caretakers at the Manila Zoo are keeping her company and making sure she is getting all of the love and attention she needs.

Though she was portrayed in the media as a lonely elephant, some researchers said that transporting her to a sanctuary could be detrimental to her mental health. She has been in Manila Zoo all her life. She has been cared for there since she was three years old. As far as she knows, Manila Zoo is her sanctuary. She doesn’t necessarily need the company of other elephants because she’s found company in her human companions. Her needs are met and she’s living a life where she is doted on endlessly. She truly isn’t as lonely as we thought.

That’s where her and Kaavan differ. Kaavan was mistreated in the zoo he was living in. He wasn’t being cared for properly and he didn’t have professional caretakers that knew what exactly an elephant needed to thrive. That’s why he needed to go to a sanctuary with the other elephants. He has lived a life with another elephant for so long that he couldn’t bear to live without company.

Safe trip home

“Kaavan’s trip to Cambodia wasn’t an incredibly grueling process. He had to do a lot of prepping, including getting COVID-19 tested. However, the flight itself was smooth and unremarkable,” the veterinarian who accompanied him during the flight, Amir Khalil, said. “He behaves like a frequent flier. The flight was uneventful, which is all you can ask for when you transfer an elephant.” Good to hear that Kaavan knows his flight manners!

At the end of the day, Kaavan and Mali seem like they’re in similar situations, but now we both know that they’re both happy and thriving just the way they are.

Hopefully, all animal rescues can be as successful as this one. Lastly, we hope Kaavan is doing well, thriving with his new family in Cambodia. He has finally found his sanctuary.

(The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication. – Ed.)

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s January-February 2021 issue.

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