ISLAMABAD — Iconic singer and actress Cher was set to visit Pakistan on Friday to celebrate the departure of Kaavan, dubbed the "world's loneliest elephant," who will soon leave a Pakistani zoo for better conditions after years of lobbying by animal rights groups and activists.
Because of security concerns, Cher's schedule was not made public but "she is on her way," said Martin Bauer of Four Paws International, a Vienna-based animal welfare group that's led the charge to save Kaavan.
The elephant has languished in the zoo for 35 years, and lost his partner in 2012. He was diagnosed by veterinarians as both overweight and malnourished earlier this year, and also suffers behavioral issues. He's set to leave for a sanctuary in Cambodia on Sunday.
Cher took up Kaavan's cause and has been a loud voice advocating for his resettlement. Four Paws, which often carries out animal rescue missions, has provided the medical treatment needed before Kaavan can travel. The battle for his relocation began in 2016.
"Thanks to Cher, but also local Pakistani activists, Kaavan's fate made headlines around the world, and this contributed to the facilitation of his transfer," Bauer told The Associated Press on Friday.
Even after he's in Cambodia, he'll require years of physical and even psychological assistance, Bauer said.
Because of the abysmal living conditions blamed on systemic negligence, Pakistan's high court in May ordered the closure of Marghazar Zoo in the capital of Islamabad, where Kaavan has lived for much of his life.
A medical examination in September showed Kaavan's nails were cracked and overgrown — the result of years of living in an improper enclosure with flooring that damaged his feet.
The elephant has also developed stereotypical behavior, shaking his head back and forth for hours, which the medical team of wildlife veterinarians and experts blamed on his utter boredom.
For the past three months, a Four Paws team including veterinarian Dr. Amil Khalil and the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board has been readying Kaavan to leave. Members of the welfare group will also accompany him to the sanctuary.
Bauer lauded the powerful impact celebrity voices can have for animal rights.
"Celebrities lending their voices to good causes are always welcomed, as they help starting public discourse and raising pressure on responsible authorities," he said.
"Around the globe there are animal lovers, famous and not famous, and the support of every single one of them is crucial," he added.