Mistreated elephant Kaavan is rescued by a superstar icon in 'Cher & The Loneliest Elephant'

Cher and Kaavan get to know one another in Cambodia.
Cher and Kaavan get to know one another in Cambodia. (Image credit: Smithsonian Channel)

When Cher heard about the plight of Asian elephant Kaavan, who’d been held captive and alone in a zoo in Pakistan for 35 years, the American icon singer decided she had to help – and her mission made headline news worldwide. Now a new Smithsonian Channel documentary called Cher & The Loneliest Elephant, follows her fight to free Kaavan from captivity, from the moment she learned about Kaavan’s plight via social media, to Kaavan’s first taste of freedom at a wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia.

‘I saw a picture and it was so horrible. He was shackled and in this shed constantly and I was really angry. I wanted to free him,’ says Cher in the film. ‘All the kids on my Twitter site started to inundate me with ‘save Kavaan,’ and I thought, how am I going to do this? I knew we had to get him out.’

Why Cher was so moved by Kaavan's story...

Kaavan had been chained at the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad ever since he was a calf. The chains meant he was unable to walk the length of his tiny enclosure, let alone bathe in his dried up pool, and his only companion, Saheli, had died in 2012 from neglect after her chains caused gangrene. Although he was still the zoo’s star attraction, Kaavan spent his days alone, rocking from side to side out of boredom, loneliness and frustration, which earned him the nickname ‘the dancing elephant.’

‘Elephants are so social, just like we are,’ says Cher who is a big supporter of the Free The Wild campaign. ‘We’re very much the same. They’re so family orientated and they’re so emotional.’

Free The Wild...Cher campaigns for Kaavan.

Free The Wild...Cher campaigns for Kaavan. (Image credit: Smithsonian Channel)

How Cher helped Kaavan…

Desperate to help Kaavan, the 74-year-old singer enlisted the help of friends and launched a non-profit organisation for animal rights, called Free The Wild. She also began a relentless Twitter campaign to persuade the Pakistan government to free Kaavan and even composed a song about the elephant’s plight. Eventually a legal case was launched and, in May 2020, Pakistan’s high court ruled that Kaavan must be freed and the entire zoo closed. 

A new home was quickly found for Kaavan in a vast wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia and Cher flew out to Islamabad to help the veterinary team prepare Kaavan for the gruelling seven-hour flight. 

‘To go and save an elephant in Islamabad, that was way beyond my job description,’ recalls Cher. ‘Then all of a sudden I was in Islamabad. I could see him from the distance. The first thing I noticed was, what’s he doing in this hellhole?’

Cher visits Kavaan in Cambodia…

Cher is delighted that Kaavan is now happy.

Cher is delighted that Kaavan is now happy. (Image credit: Zoobs/Smithsonian Channel)

Cher flew ahead to Cambodia to greet Kaavan as he experienced his first taste of freedom. Since then, Kaavan has been enjoying the company of other elephants, while Cher has become determined to help more captive animals. ‘It’s so strange, I never though we could do it,’ she says. ‘It was a wonderful trip, the whole thing was wonderful. It’s like a fairytale ending where they kiss at the end. And I now know I can do something like that so I’m going to continue.’

Cher & The Loneliest Elephant release date...

For Earth Day on Thursday April 22, Kaavan’s emotional journey with Cher will be told in the world premiere of Cher & The Loneliest Elephant, which launches on Paramount+ in the US, and has its premiere on Smithsonian Channel in the UK at 8pm. The US Smithsonian Channel linear premiere is scheduled for  Wednesday May 19 at 8pm ET/PT.

Is Kaavan shown in the Paramount+ trailer for Cher & The Loneliest Elephant?

Yes he does and you can watch highlights of Cher & The Loneliest Elephant in this Paramount+ trailer…

Nicholas Cannon
TV Content Director on TV Times, What's On TV and TV & Satellite Week

I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus Whattowatch.com. I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.