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Kaavan, the 'World's loneliest elephant' just had his first contact with another elephant in 8 years

Kaavan takes another beautiful step toward the freedom and happiness every living creature deserves.

Elephants are famously social, highly intelligent creatures. In the wild, they live in cooperative groups with close family ties and complex, distinguishable social structures.

So imagine an elephant who has been held in captivity, chained by the legs in increasingly deteriorating conditions for 35 years, with the last eight years being entirely alone. That's how Kaavan, an Asian elephant dubbed the "world's loneliest elephant" has lived his life since he was a brought to the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad as a baby. After his partner, Saheli, passed away in 2012, he's not had any contact with another of his species.

In May, Pakistan's High Court closed down the zoo due to inhumane conditions and systemic negligence. But thankfully, Kaavan's plight caught the attention of animal advocates around the world, and through a coordinated effort, he was rescued.

Kaavan, whose physical and mental health suffered in the zoo, has now been transferred to Cambodia, where he will live with 600 other elephants at the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary. Yesterday, he had his first contact with a fellow elephant, touching trunks through two hefty fences. Four Paws, the organization that stepped in to rescue Kaavan, called it "a huge moment."

Kaavan's reintroduction to his species will be done slowly and in stages, to prevent any aggressive responses. But Kaavan appears to be handling his big life changes like a champ so far. Even during his flight to Cambodia—that's right, a five-ton elephant on an airplane—handlers say he was calm and content.

One person who helped Kaavan on his journey to freedom was singer Cher, who personally traveled to Pakistan to meet the elephant she'd spent months working to help and to Cambodia to greet him upon his arrival at his new home. Kavaan was also greeted at the airport by a group of monks and rangers who made offerings and brought healthy food gifts for him. (Kaavan had been on a diet of sugar cane at the zoo, which had made him overweight. With a new diet of vegetables, he has slimmed down by more than half a ton.)

At a time when so many people are struggling and the whole of humanity feels trapped and isolated by this pandemic, this majestic creature moving toward freedom and connection with his species is a beautiful sight to behold.

"Kaavan has become a symbol of hope and freedom for the hundreds of captive elephants all around the world," Owais Awan, a lawyer who helped with the relocation project, told Al Jazeera.

Hope and freedom are exactly what we all need right now. Congratulations to Kaavan on his new life in Cambodia, and thanks to the tireless efforts of individuals and organizations who dedicated their time, energy, and resources to helping give him the care and compassion he—and every creature—deserves.

Kaavan's first contact: 'former loneliest elephant in the world' makes a friend in Cambodia

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