- The Magazine
Kaavan, an Asian bull elephant, had lived in captivity at Islamabad’s Marghazar Zoo for 27 years when his only companion, female Saheli, died. Shackled around-the-clock, unable to bathe in the shallow, filthy pool in his pen, a visibly despondent Kaavan was soon dubbed “the world’s loneliest elephant.”
Online activists rallied to Kaavan’s aid, including local Islamabad student Samar Khan, who launched a Change.org petition to have the animal moved from the zoo to a more vibrant environment where he could live in the company of other elephants. Soon, animal lovers everywhere were taking up the cause, and when news of the pachyderm’s plight reached Cher, the pop icon sprang quickly into action.
Smithsonian Channel’s new documentary Cher & the Loneliest Elephant, written and directed by Jonathan Finnigan, picks up the story in the final months of the five-year campaign to free Kaavan. A co-production of MTV, the film doesn’t short on “Believe”-era Cher tunes, or appearances by the star herself, who makes the 24-hour trek by air from L.A. to Islamabad to meet Kaavan, as he’s prepped for his much-anticipated move.
The trip is no Bear Grylls-style jungle adventure for the Oscar, Grammy, and Emmy winner, who’s only briefly shown getting acquainted with Kaavan at the zoo, before jetting off to await him at his new home. Informed that the big guy responds to music, and that he especially adores one familiar pop standard, Cher is more than happy to oblige him with an impromptu rendition. Her knowledge of the creatures does not appear vast, but her passion feels sincere, a point reinforced by interviews with Mark Cowne, one of Cher’s founding partners in the animal welfare organization Free the Wild.
Joining other animal rights outfits, like global activists FOUR PAWS, Free the Wild managed to offer Kaavan a better life — “an elephant’s life” — and free him from chains and loneliness. A brisk account of how one committed star’s influence helped move the resources necessary to complete that rescue effort, Cher & the Loneliest Elephant offers a feel-good, Earth Day example for animal rights advocates, as well as a happy ending for Kaavan, who finally found someone to take away the heartache.
Cher & the Loneliest Elephant premieres on Paramount+ on Thursday, April 22, and on the Smithsonian Channel on Wednesday, May 19 at 8 p.m. ET/PT. Visit www.paramountplus.com.
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